Monday, December 20, 2021
The Dracula Syndrome: How Our Fear Keeps Archetypes (and Our Potential) in the Shadows
By Carol Burbank, Ph.D.
In polarized times, unconscious moral certainty is the hunger that drives leaders mad, and weakens us all by feeding our fears. The stories we live, and the archetypes that energize them, get twisted into distinctions of Us/Them,Right/Wrong, and Good/Evil. There’s no better example than the Dracula Syndrome.
I call it the Dracula Syndrome because there are only three roles possible in this ancient monster myth. In any given situation, we get to choose between embodying Dracula, Dracula’s innocent victim, or the Vampire Hunter. Of course, we prefer being the hunter, the wise hero who fights and defeats the soulless beast. But, ironically, within this mythic story, everyone has the potential to be all three at some point: monster, avenger, and victim.
Playing the hero always feels great, because there’s no ambiguity – evil must be vanquished. But other roles can feel good as well. The vampire bite is often shown as erotic, with the victim swooning as she dies, so victimhood has its pleasures, as does mindlessly following authorities who seem to be serving our interests. Nevertheless, when we face consequences for our acquiescence, we play the victim and seek someone to blame. To top it all off, we’re often cast as Dracula by the people who disagree with us, and we may become Dracula when we find ways to go after those who seem weak or culpable. Perhaps which role we might create as we play this myth out simply depends on the relationship or the situation.
Please note, I’m calling Dracula a myth – not an archetype. Dracula is an ancient cultural myth that takes its power from the Ruler archetype, with a touch of the Lover. But in and of himself, he is not an archetype, just a shadow manifestation of archetypal patterns. And I’m not surprised that this myth has reared its ugly, irresistible head recently.
According to New York Times writer Jason Zinoman, the myth comes from the dark ages, when during, plagues of contagious disease, infested towns were isolated and abandoned, imagined as devastated by a vampire. He writes, “While sex has long been a simmering subtext to this monster, the vampire myth has proved to be remarkably flexible, metaphorically, evolving to reflect acute topical anxieties within the culture.” This ancient anxiety resurfaced in 2020 with imaginative disinformation about the Covid vaccine, which supposedly turns us into zombie vampires, an idea adapted from the 2007 film I Am Legend, and mirroring the 19th century anti-vax movement during the influenza epidemic.
Myths are sometimes more powerful than archetypes, because they’re such familiar stories, and archetypes strengthen their impact. They feel true, so we suspend our disbelief and dive in! But archetypes are the lived patterns behind the myth, not the myth itself. Getting conscious about the way we’re living archetypes means myths can teach us instead of seducing us.
The Dracula myth warns us not to surrender our conscious will. Ironically, it also seduces us with absolutes that awaken the fearful certainties of righteous morality. We buy into the Dracula myth’s good vs. evil seduction when we magnify that irrational ego-centered inner voice that likes to shout, “It’s true! I feel it!” and “I am right!” That road ends with objectifying disagreement as a marker of evil intent. Oppositional thinking is comforting,but makes it impossible to ground ourselves in facts or relationships. Absolute binaries also exile the Realist archetype, an ally who might otherwise help usavoid being crippled by fear and unthinking certainty.
It’s time to throw away our crosses, holy water, and wooden stakes! We can’t stay on the saintly pedestal that keeps us possessed by imaginary Draculas. The comforting moral absolutes in this myth obscure the real questions archetypes can help us ask.
For the Ruler, represented as absolute control in the vampire myth, I’d ask myself:What kind of power do I want to hold as a Ruler? Who do I think is worthy of following? What is my role in co-creation of the world I want to see?
For the Lover, represented as zombie-maker and zombie in the myth, I’d ask myself: Where can I stand strong to be more present in heartfelt and passionate relationships? Where does my fear or attraction to surrender make me weak? What does it mean to love unconditionally?
The Dracula myth can alert us when our lifeblood (meaning our energy) is being sucked to support someone else’s interest at a genuine cost to our own. Here we need the Realist archetype to help us stop being gullible and thus getting bitten, because if we do, we become a Dracula-like danger to others. That also means recognizing that the person who seems monstrous to us is not a mythical creature, but just a human trying to gain power, money, and a following.
These reflections help us wake up from the trance of myth and ground our choices in real-world human challenges. Then we can move into a middle ground, avoid the manipulations of fear tactics and absolute thinking, which pushes us into the Shadow.
This shift from being controlled to being in control takes some discipline. Believing in monsters protects us from self-knowledge. That’s why myths make such good propaganda tools! We want to believe. But most monstrous acts come from human actors who think of themselves as saviors. We are all capable of destruction, as we are all capable of constructive acts. Blinded by the Dracula Syndrome, we unintentionally support Evil in our daily choices, all the while believing we are embodying Good.
Let Dracula go. He was never here. Develop your archetypes in ways that lift up compassion and unity. Let your Lover rise to support those you love, embracing desperate and wounded neighbors and coworkers, hungry for connection. Lead towards a world where wooden stakes are repurposed to support tomato plants and build grape arbors for a feast fit for a true Ruler. Live your own best stories.
Carol Burbank, Ph.D., teaches at Pacifica Graduate Institute and is the founder of Storyweaving Coaching and Consulting. This article is an expansion of her Science of Mind Magazine monthly column on leadership.
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In polarized times, unconscious moral certainty is the hunger that drives leaders mad,and weakens us all by feeding our fears.