Goths, games and what seems to be faith: New York Times dives into vampire fantasy culture

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Before too much time goes by since Halloween, I wanted to spotlight an alternative religion -– no other word for it –- piece in the New York Times that talks about Goths and vampires.

I had no idea that Goths had a spirituality but freelancer Sam Kestenbaum, who has written on the occult and alternative traditions before for the Times, found a businesman-and-would-be-vampire who’s good at mining the Goth search for meaning, as it were.

It’s not a group I know anything about, so I gave it a read.

The big question, of course: Does the word “religion” apply to all of this? If the answer is “no,” then why is that?

In the dim corner of Halloween Adventure, a two-story costume store in Manhattan, a man called Father Sebastiaan sculpts vampire fangs by hand. A Ouija board hangs crooked on the wall, near a purple crystal and an uneven pile of occult books. His work stall, no larger than a broom closet, is barely visible behind pirate and cowboy masks.

A small gaggle had soon formed at the door, and Father Sebastiaan looked up. “The people who come to me are lost souls,” he said to a young assistant. “This is why I’m here. Fangs help them tap into their primal vampire nature. Fangs are magic.”

Two women squeezed in the stall to be fitted for fangs. “I’m a modern-day vampire who loves life,” said Christina Staib, a woman with leather boots and bat tattoos. Her friend Melanie Anderson had come for her first pair. “They give off an aura,” she said. “A spiritual vampire aura.”

Obviously the “Father” part of Sebastiaan’s title is faux.

Father Sebastiaan is just the man to help cultivate that aura. A 43-year-old with long hair, the fang maker once styled himself the king and spiritual guru of New York’s vibrant vampire scene in the 1990s. He hosted raucous parties, wrote books and launched product lines — jewelry, contact lenses and the fangs — with financial success. It was a good time to be a vampire in New York…

The New York vampire scene, like Father Sebastiaan’s stature in the city, is not what it once was. But the subculture — part alternative religion, part costumed role-play — is appealing to a new generation. Unlike their predecessors who had to seek out clubs or salons, these new vampires may simply go online. With galas and plans to expand his fang empire, Father Sebastiaan is looking to re-establish his place in the culture lest it pass him by.

OK, so he’s a party animal, but what made him spiritual?

We learn that he grew up in a New Jersey suburb and got involved in a mix of vampire fantasy games and New Age thought.

Here, he discovered an eclectic scene of drug-fueled club parties and scattered salons where eccentrics met to discuss occult spirituality. The vampire myth was enjoying a revival in those years, thanks in part to Anne Rice, whose “Vampire Chronicles” inspired a legion of superfans. The popular image of the vampire suddenly transformed from Old World castle-dwelling monster to svelte rock-star Lothario.

“The vampire is a powerful myth of the heroic outsider, of lost beauty,” Ms. Rice said. “There is a fascination with vampires always slumbering in our culture, waiting to flare up.”

How does one accurately categorize occult spirituality? Are we talking Satanism? Gaia/Earth stuff?

Hard to say. But Sebastiaan seems to be more business than blessing. At this point, we’re told he was born Aaron Todd Hoyt, and he is referred to by that name for the rest of the story.

In 1995, he started selling a line of ultrarealistic acrylic vampire fangs that fit snugly over the teeth. He called his fang company Sabretooth and treated each new customer as a member of his own vampire clan with ritualized, if kitschy, ceremonies. For some it was playful dress up, for others it was a spiritual path.

“I realized that one thing we don’t have in America is coming-of-age ceremonies,” he said. “I made one for vampires.”

Then came along a supernatural experience.

If Mr. Hoyt had any doubts about his new ventures, an otherworldly experience assuaged his uncertainty. One night, he was wandering alone in a private room of Limelight, a club in a deconsecrated church notorious for freely available drugs. He recalled his body growing unnaturally warm. He felt a spirit wrap around him. “You will become the vampire king,” Mr. Hoyt heard a voice whisper.

Just what constitutes a vampire king isn’t explained, but Hoyt decided he’d play the part. He staged gatherings that “were experimental affairs, rotating through a series of clubs, with coffins splayed out on the dance floor, performances by goth bands and leather-clad vampires who might flog one another with kink whips. Going by Father Sebastiaan or another pseudonym, he pranced through as a vampire playboy, dressed in leather pants and a top hat.”

But schisms arose in his movement in the 1990s over whether one must drink blood in order to qualify for vampiredom and whether all the spirituality Sebastiaan/Hoyt was conjuring up was simply one huge costume party.

I would have liked to have heard more about the debates surrounding this spirituality aspect. Goths can be spiritual, as this article says; in fact their very movement encourages sensitivity to things of the spirit. And they are not the same as Satanists.

I’d kind of hoped to get more of a glimpse into Goth spirituality, whatever that may be, but the piece was mainly a profile on Hoyt and how he’s used Goths and would-be vampires as stepping stones for his fang business. Which is doing quite well these days.

In the lead up to Halloween, he is booked back-to-back making specialty teeth. Standard fangs go for $150, a price that includes a pendant, a book and a ritualized renaming ceremony… by some measures, the Father Sebastiaan brand has grown larger. His online following has swelled in recent years (on Facebook he has more than 90,000 followers) as younger seekers discover him.

The link to religion is pretty light in this story, unless one counts people who simply make money off it. I’m curious about these renaming ceremonies. Is any deity called forth? Or spiritual powers invoked? There is a dark side; the article refers to a Village Voice reporter who went missing while reporting on vampires some years back. Her (apparent) murder was never solved.

So are vampires a true subculture or are their parties simply adult play dates? Without Hoyt, are there other gatherings and if so, what happens there? I would have liked to have seen the movement existing somewhere outside Father Sebastiaan’s orbit but I couldn’t get a feel for what or where that might be.

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