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Blood discussed: A brief look at haematophagia

Haematophagia usually refers to the practice of animals feeding on the blood of another species. However, the term has also been applied to humans that consume blood (something that I have referred to in previous blogs on clinical vampirism and menophilia). Most writings on human haematophagia usually refer to the practice in some sexual and/or vampiric capacity (e.g., some individuals in China and Vietnam believe certain types of snake blood are aphrodisiacs and are drunk with rice wine) but haematophagia can also occur for other reasons.

While I working was in Spain, I was taken to one of the best Castilian restaurants, and as part of the starter I was served morcilla sausage. Morcilla sausage is basically a Spanish version of black pudding (aka ‘blood pudding’) and made from pig’s blood. I absolutely loved it. It did make me wonder what other ‘blood’ foods I might enjoy. I did a bit of research into the making of blood sausages and found out that variations of this dish exist in cultures all over the world (e.g., Europe, Asia, and the Americas), and that all kinds of different animals’ blood can be used (including pigs, sheep, cattle, goats, and ducks). According to the Wikipedia entry on human haematophagia:

“Drinking blood and manufacturing foodstuffs and delicacies with animal blood is also a feeding behavior in many societies. Cow blood mixed with milk, for example, is a mainstay food of the African Massai. Some sources say that Mongols would drink blood from one of their horses if it became a necessity. Black pudding is eaten in many places around the world. Some societies, such as the Moche, had ritual hematophagy, as well as the Scythians, a nomadic people of Russia, who had the habit of drinking the blood of the first enemy they would kill in battle…Psychiatric cases of patients performing hematophagy also exist. Sucking or licking one’s own blood from a wound is also a behavior commonly seen in humans, and in small enough quantities is not considered taboo. Finally, human vampirism has been a persistent object of literary and cultural attention”

There a numerous YouTube videos of the African Massai (in Tanzania) drinking blood directly from the necks of live cattle (such as here and here). Cattle blood drinking typically occurs after special celebrations (such as births, ritual circumcisions, etc.), but the special occasions are not compulsory for blood drinking to occur. The cattle are never killed and the cuts made to drink blood from appear to heal quickly. One report on the Environmental Graffiti website described the practice:

“Half a dozen Maasai warriors wrestle with the struggling cow. Another waits with his bow drawn, arrow at the ready. Finally, they have the straining animal in position. The warrior with the weapon shoots straight for the bovine’s jugular. Warm blood gushes into a waiting bucket, pumped out by the animal’s still-beating heart. The blood keeps flowing, almost filling the container, before the cow is released – its punctured neck sealed with a dab of cow dung. It will live to see another day. Its’ blood-donating job is done, at least for another month. The Maasai men who perform this blood-draining ritual do not intend to kill, or even harm, the animal. They merely want some of its nourishing crimson fluid to drink”.

Another Wikipedia entry focusing on blood as food notes that in addition to blood sausages, animal blood has also been used to thicken, colour, and/or flavour sauces and gravies, and for various types of blood soup (such as ‘czernina’ in Poland, ‘papas de sarrabulho’ in Portugal, and ‘svartsoppa’ made with goose blood in Sweden). Although blood is a taboo food in some cultures, in others it is perfectly acceptable – particularly in times when food has been scarce. Other cultures have other blood foods including blood pancakes (in Scandinavian and Baltic countries), blood tofu (China, Thailand, Vietnam), blood cake (Taiwan), blood potato dumplings (‘blodpalt’ made with reindeer blood in Sweden) and blood bread (‘paltbrod’ in Sweden). Additionally, Wikipedia noted that:

“Blood can also be used as a solid ingredient, either by allowing it to congeal before use, or by cooking it to accelerate the process. In Hungary when a pig is slaughtered in the morning the blood is fried with onions and is served for breakfast. In China, ‘blood tofu’ is most often made with pig’s or duck’s blood, although chicken’s or cow’s blood may also be used. The blood is allowed to congeal and simply cut into rectangular pieces and cooked. This dish is also known in Java as saren, made with chicken’s or pig’s blood. Blood tofu is found in curry mee as well as the Sichuan dish, maoxuewang. In Tibet, congealed yak’s blood is a traditional food”.

The Tanzanian Massai people are not the only culture to consume uncooked animal blood products. For instance, Inuits living in the Arctic Circle consume seal blood and believe it to have health and social benefits. According to a paper on consuming seal blood in a 1991 issue of Medical Anthropology Quarterly, seal blood is “seen as fortifying human blood by replacing depleted nutrients and rejuvenating the blood supply, [and] is considered a necessary part of the Inuit diet”. Another academic paper by Dr. Edmund Searles in a 2002 issue of the journal Food and Foodways reported that in relation to the drinking of seal blood: Inuit food generates a strong flow of blood, a condition considered to be healthy and indicative of a strong body”. Historically, there are accounts of Irish people bleeding cattle as a preventative measure against cattle diseases. The Wikipedia entry on blood as food claims that the Irish mixed the drawn blood with butter, herbs, oats or meal” to provide a “nutritious emergency food”.

During my research I also came across a story in The Atheist Times (with photographic evidence) of Hindus engaged in the practice of decapitating and drinking goat blood directly from its body (a blood sacrifice). The report claimed the practice was widely prevalent throughout India and Malaysia. These Hindus believe that the Hindu goddess Kali descends upon those drinking the goat’s blood.

Staying on the religious theme, there are (of course) many (arguably ‘mainstream’) simulated acts of haemotphagia – most notably in various religious ceremonies and rituals. The most obvious is in the transubstantiation of wine as the blood of Jesus Christ during Christian Eucharist (where religious followers believe they are drinking the blood of Christ). Various religions engage in such pseudo-haemotophagic practices including the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, some Anglican, and Lutheran churches. (Other religions are the exact opposite and consider the drinking of blood taboo such as Jewish and Muslim cultures).

As this brief review demonstrates, non-sexual and non-vampiric human haematophagia and pseudo-haematophagia appear to be common and widespread in many cultures and countries. Academic research on the topic appears to be limited although it certainly warrants further investigation.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Borré, K. (1991). Seal blood, Inuit blood, and diet: A biocultural model of physiology and cultural identity. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 5, 48-62.

Davidson, A (2006). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Searles, E. (2002). Food and the making of modern Inuit identities. Food and Foodways, 10(1-2), 55-78.

Wikipedia (2013). Blood as food. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_as_food

Wikipedia (2013). Hematophagy. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hematophagy

Blood pressures: Interview with a [female] vampire

In a previous blog I briefly examined clinical vampirism as a sexual paraphilia. In that blog I noted that there had been very little empirical research on clinical vampirism and that most of what is known comes from clinical case studies. Furthermore, vampirism (i) is rarely a single clinical condition, (ii) may or may not be associated with other psychiatric and/or psychological disorders (e.g., severe psychopathy, schizophrenia, hysteria, mental retardation), and (iii) may or may not necessarily include sexual arousal. Other related conditions include odaxelagnia (deriving sexual pleasure from biting), haematolagnia (deriving sexual satisfaction from the drinking of blood), and haematophilia (deriving sexual satisfaction from blood in general), and auto-haemofetishism (i.e., deriving sexual pleasure from sight of blood drawn into a syringe during intravenous drug practice).

More recently I was contacted by a female ‘vampire’ (I use the term lightly in this instance) who has read my original article wanted to share her story with me. She gave me permission to disseminate her story with my blog readers on the understanding that I guaranteed her anonymity, confidentiality, and used her preferred name of ‘Countess Maria’ (CM) throughout the article. (She also signed herself as ‘The Young Madam’ but I will use CM for the remainder of this article). Obviously, I have no way of verifying anything that CM communicated to me, but on a personal level I have no reason to doubt the veracity of her claims. All of our communication was via email under her real name (which I then checked out online on a specific social networking site and I am 100% sure that she is who she says she is). She also said she “would be honored to have you feature my story.  I have answered your questions…as I honor your intellect and respect…being a professor is indeed a respectable, hardy, and challenging profession which is why I greatly respect an honor such profession”. More specifically, she added:

CM: “Whom I share this information must take it to the grave with them; except for you. You may share my story if and only if you use my name I have used for years ‘Countess Marie’. I do indeed consider myself a Countess due to what I have endured through humanitarian efforts as well as my ever strong want, need, and desire to help humanity – even if humanity shuns me for who I am”.

I asked CM for some socio-demographic information and she told me that she was 23 years of age, described herself as an African American and was currently employed as a Pharmacy Technician. Based on what she told me, she was well educated with various medical qualifications including Pharmacy Technician and Animal Care Certification. I also asked her about her religious beliefs and she responded: “Christian with great noble intent (‘I will gladly share my last piece of bread with my fellow man’). I live by that statement and I intend to follow through”. She also went ion to say: “I am finally in my studied job, as a Pharmacy Technician.  I have always had a thing for helping people…this is just one if the many ways I can help.  My dream in life is to be a great humanitarian and grow to greatness in helping those around me…I love who I am, and I am always wanting to follow my path.

In her account, CM didn’t really label herself a vampire but admitted that she liked drinking blood, and that many of the acts she engaged in would be labelled as vampire-like by others. She also talked about her first experiences of blood-sucking:

CM: “It is my understanding that you wish to hear about my further expansion on my clinical vampirism. Truthfully, I don’t really put a label on what it is I do. I have been consuming blood since I was young. The first cut I ever got was from a tree branch. I sucked my arm for several hours because the taste was delicious”.

At that point, CM didn’t really view her activity as in any way wrong but over time she began to realize that blood sucking was not considered normal behaviour and that she was socially ostracized by those who knew about her love of blood:

CM: “As I furthered in age through the years I noticed that I was considered different and odd, but I kept to myself about it. My love, my best friends, and you are the only people to know I consume blood…I would also like to add I have been called everything in the book for consuming blood; Monster, Demon, Grim’s Helper, and all the names in the middle…[Even] my friends called me [these things] at first because they did not understand what it mean for me”

However, CM went to great lengths to tell me that her love of blood did not involve the sucking of blood from other humans:

CM: “Make no mistake…I have never consumed blood from any human being – [only] myself. I consume pork blood, beef blood, and if that cannot be obtained I buy steaks and cook them very rare just enough for blood to spill out of it. I enjoy eating food, but it’s not really fun if it lacks in my nutrition. I add blood to juice, tea, desserts, cakes, salads, and disguise it in all sorts of ways”.

CM claimed she would never do anything that impacted on other humans and that morally it would be wrong to enforce her own beliefs and desires on others. She also believes that blood consumption is what keeps her alive:

“I never feed anyone else my blood food. I cook human food properly for guests for I know I am the only one who enjoys the taste of blood. To many, it is bitter and irony-metallic tasting. I cannot relate, due to the fact that for me, it tastes like fine wine. Without blood, I know that I would surely die. I need blood to live. I have always felt that way. Nothing on Earth will ever change my thoughts on the matter. I love blood…To me blood is life or death”.

CM also told me she had been diagnosed with anemia and I asked her whether believed that her love of blood may be because she has anemia:

“I will always love blood. I know that as far as my health goes, it actually favors blood consumption. I was told I almost died by slowly falling into a coma from sleeping for almost 4 straight days. The entire time I was asleep it only felt like seconds, but when I awoke, everyone was worried…I was diagnosed with being anemic, as well as hyperthyroidism. My hyperthyroidism is such [that] I will be on Levothyroxin until the day I die. My blood naturally lacks the iron (due to being anemic) so consuming blood helps me in many ways…I feel that my anemia further shows me that when I feel dizzy or “off centered” that I should consume blood.  I only consume pig or beef blood…NEVER human blood”.

As she had read my article clinical vampirism as a sexual paraphilia I also asked CM if her consuming of blood was in any way sexually motivate. She responded by saying:

“The sight of blood is a turn on for me, but only inside of a container.  If someone is bleeding of course I would help aid them and stop the pain.  If I see frozen blood in the grocery store or walk in the meat section at the market for too long, all I can smell is the blood, which causes arousal for me.  I don’t stay in butcher shops long for that reason”.

This suggests that blood for CM (in some circumstances) is sexually arousing and that there may be paraphilic elements in her reason for liking blood. Whether CM is typical of other ‘vampires’ is not clear. But given the little we know about people that love drinking blood, I am grateful to CM for her time in answering my questions and her honesty in relation to the development and motivations underpinning her hobby.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Benezech, M., Bourgeois, M., Boukhabza, D. & Yesavage, J. (1981). Cannibalism and vampirism in paranoid schizophrenia. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 42(7), 290.

Gubb, K., Segal, J., Khota1, A, Dicks, A. (2006). Clinical Vampirism: a review and illustrative case report. South African Psychiatry Review, 9, 163-168.

Halevy, A., Levi, Y., Ahnaker, A. & Orda, R. (1989). Auto-vampirism: An unusual cause of anaemia. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 82, 630-631.

Hemphill R.E. & Zabow T. (1983) Clinical vampirism. A presentation of 3 cases and a re-evaluation of Haigh, the ‘acid-bath murderer’. South African Medical Journal, 63(8), 278-81.

Kelly, B.D., Abood, Z. & Shanley, D. (1999). Vampirism and schizophrenia. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 16, 114-117.

Jaffe, P., & DiCataldo, F. (1994). Clinical vampirism: Blending myth and reality. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 22, 533-544.

Miller, T.W., Veltkamp, L.J., Kraus, R.F., Lane T. & Heister, T. (1999). An adolescent vampire cult in rural America: clinical issues and case study. Child Psychiatry and Human Development 29, 209-19.

Milner, J.S. Dopke, C.A. & Crouch, J.L. (2008). Paraphilia not otherwise specified: Psychopathology and Theory In Laws, D.R. & O’Donohue, W.T. (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment (pp. 384-418). New York: Guildford Press.

Noll, R. (1992). Vampires, Werewolves and Demons: Twentieth Century Reports in the Psychiatric Literature. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Prins, H. (1985). Vampirism: A clinical condition. British Journal of Psychiatry, 146, 666-668.

Vanden Bergh, R. L., & Kelly, J. F. (1964). Vampirism: A review with new observations. Archives of General Psychiatry, 11, 543-547.

Wilson N. (2000) A psychoanalytic contribution to psychic vampirism: a case vignette. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 60, 177-86.

Yates, P.M., Hucker, S.J. & Kingston, W.A. (2008). Sexual sadism: Psychopathology and theory. In Laws, D.R. & O’Donohue, W.T. (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment. pp.213-230. New York: Guildford Press.