Do vampires have a soul? It depends on how you see the world, as the Buffster says!
I cop a lot of flak for my supernatural obsessions.
Case in point: a conversation at the start of the year with my father, normally quite an intelligent man. “You’re watching MORE silly vampire shows?” sighed Dad when I told him excitedly all about The Vampire Diaries and True Blood. He became learned in my fangirl ways with Buffy, but thought that would be it. How wrong he was.
I mean, I could hardly resist these guys…
Or this guy…
But that conversation with my Dad is just the tip of the iceberg. No one has suffered as I have suffered for you, supernatural shows and movies.
In my experience though, shows in the supernatural genre touch on some of the most complex and interesting philosophical notions I have ever come across in pop culture.
I have an army of Whedonverse scholars, academics dedicated to Buffy studies, to back me up on this point.
I’m constantly amazed by the substance beneath they veneer of the usually preternaturally good-looking casts on supernatural shows. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that some Supes 101 editions will fixate on the latter, but often they will concentrate on the deeper issues that these shows examine.
What bigger question is there than the question about whether life exists after death?
In vampire tales True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Buffy and even Twilight, this usually translates into the question: do vampires have souls? The answer is usually different according to your perception of what a soul is, and the unique vampire mythology of each show.
Preparing for this post made me consider why we’ve been conditioned to believe that vampires are intrinsically soulless, damned creatures. They are reanimated dead flesh and don’t have a heartbeat, but they are “undead”; not quite alive but not exactly dead either, which many see as a prerequisite for a soul leaving a body.
In the episode Mine (S01E03), and quite possibly the only True Blood scene where Bill Compton and I have seen eye to eye, he discusses with Sookie how human and vampire “magic”, or from my perspective souls, both exist; they simply work in different ways.
Most epic Bill/Sookie GIF ever, in my humble opinion 😉
Bill Compton: I have no heart beat. I have no need to breathe. There are no electrical impulses in my body. What animates you no longer animates me.
Sookie Stackhouse: What does animate you then? Blood? How do you digest it if nothing works?
Bill Compton: Magic?
Sookie Stackhouse: Oh, come on Bill! I may look naïve but I’m not, and you need to remember that.
Bill Compton: You think that it’s not magic that keeps you alive? Just ‘cause you understand the mechanics of how something works, doesn’t make it any less of a miracle… which is just another word for magic. We’re all kept alive by magic, Sookie. My magic’s just a little different from yours, that’s all.
Examples of vampire magic…
Magical ability to dance in the rafters:
Magical ability to compel/glamour humans without special armour like telepathy or vervain:
I love Jessica!
So just because a vampire doesn’t have a heartbeat, they are arguably kept alive in a unique way (undead in our speak). I raised this idea with a friend, who acknowledged this point could hold true, depending on the vampire show in question. For her, the question of whether vampiric “magic” is soulless depends on whether the vamps are considered to be animated by demonic powers, or if there is the possibility that they are simply one of many non-human species created by God or the Big Bang that have evolved since the beginning of time on earth and who just happen to often operate outside of humanity’s rules.
After all, my kitty cat Tootsie clearly doesn’t have the same sense of morality as me; she proudly disposed a mouse on my parent’s doorstop just this week, but lacks the self-awareness to consider herself a killer. Vampires, in contrast, are far more intelligent than many other creatures, but operate on a different moral plane that is not necessarily invalid, just because their codes don’t always align with those of human beings.
The vampire world in True Blood is a good illustration of this fact. Say what you will about the morality of these vamps, but they clearly have a well defined system of checks and balances enforced by kings, queens, magisters and of course, Viking sheriffs with an aversion to clothing for which we are truly grateful…
Living as long as they do, vamps perhaps need codes to co-exist even more than their human counterparts.
When thinking about the issue of whether vampires are animated by demonic powers or whether they have just evolved differently to humans, I tried to find the creation stories for vamps in Buffy, True Blood, Twilight and The Vampire Diaries.
In Buffy, even though it is a pretty clear cut case of vampires being animated by demonic powers, it is suggested that these demons possess a soul of some sort.
This is highlighted in The Harvest (S01E02), when Buffy’s Watcher or mentor Giles explains the origins of vampires.
Giles: The books tell the last demon to leave this reality fed off a human, mixed their blood. He was a human form possessed, infected by the demon’s soul. He bit another, and another, and so they walk the Earth, feeding… Killing some, mixing their blood with others to make more of their kind. Waiting for the animals to die out, and the old ones to return.
When we think of a soul, we tend to think of kittens, sunshine and wonderful biblical things, but I think it is important to consider the notion that a soul can be damaged…
… and Horcruxed to the max, and yet still exist.
In the True Blood, Vampire Diaries and Twilight worlds, an explanation has not yet been provided as to how vamps came to be. So how can we automatically assume that they are soulless?
You might then point to vampires’ horrible actions as evidence of their soullessness. But let’s not forget that humans have the capacity for evil just as much as vampires. This touches on the concept of a being, regardless of their species, having the potential to be damned by their own actions.
Is having a soul a result of your state of mind? If we follow this theory, it could definitely be said that vampires are predisposed to being damned. Their diet of human blood means that they will be faced with the constant possibility of killing another self-aware creature, which seems to be the standard people use to define evil (Obviously, not all humans are vegetarians. So is the difference between a human eating a Whopper hamburger and Damon from The Vampire Diaries drinking a litre of soccer mom just scale?).
However, a common thread in Buffy, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries and the Twilight Saga is that vampires are capable of being deeply moral creatures.
The Cullen vamps in the Twilight series are nicknamed “vegetarian vampires” because they choose to abstain from drinking human blood entirely, and the head of the Cullen family is even a doctor, a profession that at its essence is about actively helping keep humans alive. The Volturi give Twilight vamps ground rules to escape public detection, but the Cullens seem to have souls in the sense that it is an inner sense of right and wrong that keeps them from hunting people, not just a higher authority.
Stefan Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries similarly adopted a “bunny diet” for the first season and a half, before deciding to develop a tolerance to blood by taking a sip of blood every day in Plan B (S02E06). Yet this hasn’t diminished his ability to be compassionate; human traits are magnified in Vampire Diaries vamps, and Stefan’s ability as a human to be deeply empathetic has been evident in the protector role he inhabits in many of his relationships as a vampire, irrespective of their species.
In True Blood, Eric Northman’s awesome maker Godric has such crushing guilt about his previous actions as a vampire and pain at the continuing barbarism of his kind that he willingly went to the final death. Although he ultimately did so with the main female protagonist Sookie Stackhouse at his side, he originally was going to do so voluntarily after being kidnapped by members of a fundamentalist, anti-vampire church, in an arguably misguided attempt to make the statement that vampires and humans can co-exist peacefully.
In Timebomb (S02E08), Godric shares an exchange with Eric that shows a strong sense of morality, one that seemingly has taken the extended lifespan of the millennia old vampire to fully develop (flashback scenes implied Godric was more taken with the vampire lifestyle previously). If you believe in reincarnation, maybe vampirism gives these creatures more time to truly become soulful creatures in a single form, whereas humans have to cycle through various lives to get to this point?
Eric Northman: Why wouldn’t you leave when I first came for you?
Godric: They didn’t treat me badly. You’d be shocked at how ordinary most of them [the fundies who kidnapped him] are.
Eric Northman: They do nothing but fan the flames of hatred for us.
Godric: Let’s be honest. We are frightening. After thousands of years we haven’t evolved. We only grow more brutal, more predatory. I don’t see the danger in treating humans as equals. The Fellowship of the Sun arose because we never did so.
Eric Northman: Is that why you wouldn’t fight when they took you? Godric: I could have killed every last one of them within minutes. And what would that have proven?
Godric’s words contradict his own belief that vampires haven’t evolved; he is proof that this is possible. In fact, despite being “rescued” by Sookie and Eric from the Fellowship, he decides to “meet the sun” and the final death anyway. Although this essentially amounts to suicide, in the context of the scene and the fact that as a vampire he could live forever if he wanted (assuming outside forces did not kill him, which is unlikely given his age) this actually points to Godric not only having soul but wanting to take the step required to take this part of himself to the next level or phase.
I personally agree with Sookie’s view of God, which she gives while waiting with Godric for the sun to come up and claim his life. He asks her how God should punish him, and Sookie says that God doesn’t punish, he forgives. I believe that regardless of their species, any self-aware creature who truly seeks God with a penitent heart and sense of contrition of past wrongs will be granted absolution and a place in Heaven. As Giles pointed out in Buffy episode I Only Have Eyes For You (S02E19), forgiveness is given not because someone deserves it, but because they need it.
Oh yeah, did I mention that Godric totally came back in freaky visions to Eric in season three? Ghost or soul? I still haven’t decided!
In any case, it can be argued that your soul is determined by your choices. Even as a vampire, you can nurture this part of yourself by being kind and caring rather than selfish and cruel.
The Vampire Diaries introduced the concept of a humanity switch that vampires can flick on or off. I was intrigued by the recent revelation from new character Rose in Katerina (S02E9) that while newbie vamps can use the switch, as a vamp matures they lose the ability to switch their humanity off and just have to fake it.
Just thought I would preempt the KJewls reaction to a mention of Rose 😉
By my interpretation, this means that Vampire Diaries vamps have a soul whether they like it or not, and it is their choice whether they develop a good or bad one. Equally, humans can choose to be soulless monsters if they want to.
Buffy vampires seem to have less free will or the capacity to choose to develop a good soul. While True Blood, Twilight, and Vampire Diaries vampires seem to have a slice of humanity they can decide to acknowledge or ignore, in Lie To Me (S02E07) Buffy explains that this is not the case for humans who become vampires in her world: “You die, and a demon sets up shop in your old house, and it walks, and it talks, and it remembers your life, but it’s not you.”
In contrast, as mentioned earlier, Vampire Diaries vamps are not only like themselves but the old aspects of their personality not only remain intact but are amplified. After the difficulties of the initial transition period, although it is not explicitly stated this is the case, it appears that True Blood and Twilight vampires largely retain the qualities of their old human selves, albeit tempered by new thirsts and urges.
For that matter, a soul could simply be considered to be your core being as opposed to an inner sense of right and wrong; in other words, the distinct personality and habits that make a character distinct. Unlike my other favourite supernatural creatures, zombies, vampires in Buffy, Twilight, True Blood and The Vampire Diaries all have clearly defined personalities, whether they are “good vamps” or “bad vamps”.
The Buffy series also introduces the concept of a vampire being able to be “cursed” with a soul. Based on the earlier quote from Giles, I would interpret this as their demonic soul being replaced with a human one.
Buffy’s first vampire love interest, Angel, spends much of the series seeking redemption for his horrific actions while possessed by a demonic soul after regaining his human one courtesy of a gypsy curse.
Hey lovely Spuffy fan ofepicproportions, hope you enjoy 🙂
Her second vampire love interest, Spike, despite being one of the Big Bads in early seasons, even actively seeks to receive a soul in the final two seasons. This is brought about by two things. One, in season four, a supernatural fighting collective known as The Initiative embeds a chip in his brain that causes him pain not only when he physically tries to harm a human being (though not other supernatural creatures), but even when he has the mental impulse to do so. So in order to avoid the pain inflicted by the chip, Spike is inadvertently conditioned to suppress evil intentions. Second, he falls in love with Buffy, despite her being a human vampire slayer who was once his greatest foe.
It is really the latter that drives him to see a human soul as something that is desireable, even after his crazy vampire ex Drusilla shows him a way to feed and harm humans despite the presence of the chip.
So despite being given the option to return to his old soulless ways, Spike endures trials by an ancient demon to have his human soul restored to him.
And finally, a radical perspective to leave you on. The difference between what is right or wrong is a matter of perspective; we are just accustomed to defining things according to human standards. Who is to say that evil vamps don’t exist on the same moral spectrum as humans, only with their moral compass oriented in the opposite direction to “good” humans?
Hmm, Amy, though not quite on the same level as the Music Sex God above, who I will continue to work into posts for the most nebulous reasons imaginable 😉
Angelus, the demonic soul alter ego to human soul vamp Angel, was dedicated to evil with an intensity to match the piousness of a seminary student; the forces of good were what was wrong to him.
Vamps in Buffyverse vary in the degree of their commitment to evil, ranging from wanting to bring forth Armageddon to liking a world that contains humans AKA Happy Meals With Legs. No matter what, they seem to have earthly desires of some sort. For example, Spike and Drusilla had their crazy, twisted love for one another at one point. The Judge monster in Surprise and Innocence (S02E13-14), who could literally burn the humanity out of creatures that possessed even a tiny percentage of this quality, couldn’t harm Angel when he had lost his soul and became Angelus again, as there was no humanity left in the Angelus persona. And yet even Angelus was attracted to some of the trappings of humanity, like art, poetry and fine parties. So even his demon soul was informed by some semblance of an appreciation of humanity, in my opinion, even if only the pursuit of creativity and innovation.
To me, the only supernatural creatures I can think of who are truly soulless are zombies, because they lack any sense of self. I would be happy hear from anyone who begs to differ. And the new zombie TV series The Walking Dead seems to be changing zombie rules a little bit, with hints of zombies remembering small aspects of their former human lives.
So what do you think? Do vampires have souls? Can vampires possess either a human soul or demonic soul? Do creatures have to be good to possess a soul, or can a soul be either whole or tarnished?
But without getting all soapbox-y, TAKE THAT, doubters who say vampire series are silly DAMMIT! How many other genres could give this scope for discussion and metaphorical complexity?
See, even Paul Wesley agrees with me and is saying “Na na na na na!”