Monday, February 22, 2016

Interview with ILLYRIAH SAHJAZA by Dave Wolff


What is your personal definition of vampirism as a belief system, and how has it developed since your teens?
Being a vampire is more than just dressing in all black and wearing fangs. There are elements involved that are very real, and can be very overwhelming. Take the act of feeding, for example: when a vampire feeds, they use meditation and other spiritual acts to consume the life force of others. When I go too long without feeding, I become run-down and emotional. Until recently, these effects manifest before the thought occurs to me that I have neglected my feeding schedule. In short, vampirism is the combination of spirituality and physical/mental health. My initial interest in vampirism began during my teens. I met a practicing vampire, who subsequently became my closest and most trusted friend. At the time, I was frequently hospitalized, suffering from severe anemia. My condition was so severe that we were considering blood transfusions. I described my situation to my friend, who introduced me to the concept of psychic vampirism. He explained that my health might be a manifestation of what we call "awakening" - an event where a vampire's nature surfaces, sometimes in the form of inexplicably ailing health. I wouldn't say that my vampirism has "developed," per se. Since my teens, I have learned how to better monitor my needs and ensure that they are taken care of more consistently. In my early twenties, I struggled a lot with my feeding schedule, and it showed in my health. I would become ill more easily and frequently. As I've matured, I have learned to watch for warning signs that my health is failing, and catch them before they become severe.

What first interested you in vampires as a teen? Did you peruse any classic literature or movies in those days?
Before learning of my vampirism, I don't recall ever being interested in them. Sure - I read Anne Rice and "Dracula," but I always dismissed vampirism as fiction. After coming to the realization that 1) vampires are real, and 2) I'm one of them, suddenly vampire fiction took on a whole new meaning for me. Since then, I've seen and read it all - all of the books of Anne Rice and every associated movie, "Dracula" literature and film... I even enjoy some of the more recent works. I even read and watched the entire "Twilight" saga - which, for what it was, I didn't think was all that bad. Vampire fiction fascinates me, because each and every work encompasses not just the flat-out fictional qualities of vampirism, but the realities that inspire them. Some works are more grounded in reality than others, but they all take those truths and put a fantasy twist on them to make the final product entertaining and enlightening.

How often have you heard about those events described as “awakening” and how profound was it for you?
All the time! Most recently, I helped a dear friend through her awakening. It usually comes about through tragedy or loss, but not always. Some are born "awake," though I've only witnessed this occurrence once. The profundity of my awakening was intense, and took many years (in my experience, this is uncommon... it seems to depend on how readily available a mentor is; for me, this took years). Following an emotionally damaging event, my health began to fail. I went years without knowing what was wrong with me. Even my doctors and specialists were stumped. It wasn't until I met my "sire" and mentor, Jonas, that all became clear.

How much have you heard about vampires who were born awake? Can you describe your own personal experience witnessing the occurrence?
I have heard of a few situations where this occurs, but it has always been a second or third hand account. Until two years ago, I had never seen it myself. Then - with the birth of my youngest son - it finally happened: my metaphysical health hit a new low during my pregnancy with John. I was having to feed significantly more often, and it still never seemed like enough. The day he was born, I finally learned why - everything about him was the embodiment of what it means to be a vampire. His eyes were open doors to what seems like an endless story of age and experience; gazing into them was (and still is) the equivalent of staring into a black hole. He was born with abnormally enhanced physical strength: the nurses were baffled when, only hours after birth, he was able to raise his head and maintain control of its movement. As he has grown over the last year and a half, he seems to absorb information at a higher rate than every other toddler his age, including his now six-year-old brother. Many of those who have come in contact with John have been hypnotized by his aura and personality. Even those without the gift of spiritual sight have voiced impressions regarding his true nature - the term "old soul" comes up often. I look forward to watching him grow and come into his gifts as he matures, as I suspect he will be capable of profound greatness.

How common are vampire births like the birth of your son? Have you heard similar accounts from people close to you?
This is a difficult question to answer. Most of the other vampires I've met have either been very private about their awakening, or have experienced their awakening later in life. I know it happens, and I've heard from others that it is more common than one would think, but I can neither confirm nor deny this from my own personal experience. I have also observed some dispute within the community as to whether or not it is possible to become a vampire when you weren't originally born as one (being "made"). This strikes a chord for me personally, as I was not always as I am now. Through tragedy and a metaphysical catalyst, my energy core sustained irreparable damage later in my life, causing my vampiric nature. For all intents and purposes, I became a vampire through external causes. I cannot deny that fact, and to try to pretend otherwise (as I have tried) does more harm than good.

How much of a debate has it been in your community concerning whether people can become “made” vampires?

I’m not sure if I would call it a “debate,” per se. It just seems to me that it is somewhat of a taboo. I find myself frequently avoiding the topic to avoid creating an argument. In (non-fiction) vampire literature, I’ve seen the topic addressed as an impossibility. However, I can in no way speak for the rest of the community. Like all faith-based opinions, everyone’s viewpoint is different – just because it differs from yours does not mean it’s wrong or incorrect. I hold no ill will against those who feel differently than I do. They have the beliefs that are right for them; I have beliefs that are what’s right for me. Basically, there is no “wrong” or “right” when it comes to taboos like this one. All I know is what I have experienced, which is why – because it is somewhat of a taboo – I avoid the topic unless it’s addressed personally.

Do you remain friends with the practicing vampire you met in your teenage years? What was his definition of psychic vampirism and what were some of the things he instructed you on the subject?
As a matter of fact, yes... We experienced a falling out sometime back, but have reunited and - as it turns out - are engaged to be married. Jonas taught me very nearly everything I know. He covered the basics, as well as some of the more in-depth methods of things like feeding. Now, as a current and active member of Temple House Sahjaza, I am able to receive even more training in order to fine tune the training I've already received through Jonas.

When it comes to vampire fiction in film, do you prefer the mainstream/Hollywood made movies, classic era movies like Nosferatu or the underground made movies such as those made by Hammer? Which of those categories are most and least grounded in reality, or does it depend on the movie?
It depends on the movie and genre, and how the two factors mesh. I feel that there has been a shift in the film-making process regarding vampires, and they are becoming increasingly more grounded in reality than they used to be. The TV show, Moonlight, is an exquisite example of this: When the vampire is exposed to sunlight, for example, he doesn't burst into flames; he just gets very, very sick. This is what happens to real vampires, and I was beyond thrilled to see the writers take the show in that direction. As much as I hate to admit it, "Twilight" is also a lot more grounded in reality than one would think. Yes - there are inappropriately fantasy-driven elements (we vampires are not made of glittering stone), but there are realistic bits that need to be given their proper credit: Every vampire is given different dark gifts, and each of us apply those gifts in different ways. As a vampire with the gift of "the sight," I relate to Alice Cullen quite a bit. Also, the "sparkling" that everyone talks about is - in my opinion - a somewhat over-dramatized description of a very real occurrence: as vampires, we have a certain aura around us that when exposed, sets us apart from others.
Personally, I prefer the mid-range Hollywood films - the two adaptations of Anne Rice's books are my personal favorites. While generally they are not terribly grounded in reality, the vampiric personalities are very realistic. I relate a great deal to Lestat - I awakened at a point in my life where I went a very long time without a mentor, or "sire." I had to figure everything out myself. Three years passed before I ever met Jonas, so by the time I met him, I had no choice but to follow whatever guidance he provided to - essentially - save my life. ("I'm going to give you the choice I never had...”) Another way I relate to Lestat is my fervent desire to "live in the light." That's why I wanted this interview. It seems to me to be a profound disappointment that vampires are still - whether by necessity or choice - so very private about what we are...

How do you think the current trend in portraying vampires will continue in movies and television programs?
I’m not really sure… The last 5-to-10 years have been rather transformative for the genre of vampire fiction. Had I been asked this question 2 years ago, I would have likely speculated that – with vampire fiction starting to rely somewhat more heavily on what it truly means to be a real vampire – the trend was only the first step in the acceptance of vampires as actual people, instead the monsters we were once recognized as. However, now that “Twilight fever” as fully subsided, I’m not really sure. I would like to see a continuation of those that create vampire fiction moving closer and closer to portraying our fantasy counterparts as real people with real feelings. Whether or not that will happen at this point, however, is currently a mystery as far as I can tell… I guess we will all know in time.

Are there certain published works on vampirism you have read over the years? Who are the authors you most admire?
Before meeting Jonas, I went through a handful of works on vampirism, but none of them really stuck with me. I needed more of a hands-on education. Temple House Sahjaza will be releasing a book of our own in the near future, and I'm anxiously looking forward to its release. Truth be told, I have never really found any authors that resonated with me personally. There have been works here and there that have given me a jumping off point, so to speak, but none of them seemed to fully encompass my exact point of view. I suppose that my contact with Jonas, as well as my training through Temple House Sahjaza, has been sufficient enough for me not to feel the need to seek other sources. If I find any that strike a chord the others could not, rest assured that I will add them to my collection.

Why has vampirism been a closely guarded secret through the centuries? While you were being instructed by Jonas, how much historical research were you doing on the subject?
The fundamental answer to this is simple - people fear what they do not understand. This fear has been exemplified over and over throughout time. I think the need for privacy within our community is one of protection. That having been said, it has been wonderful to witness more and more of our kind "coming out of the coffin" in one way or another. As I said, I hope that the day will come when we will be able to allow ourselves to be fully open, and ultimately, be accepted by society. The movement for such publicity has begun, but it is slow-moving, which I feel is necessary. Due to the stigma created by Hollywood, it will take time for the population as a whole to accept us for what we are. This is to be expected, of course, but it is good to see the process begin. Jonas' guidance provided me the groundwork I needed to dig deeper. Countess Bathory and other similar figures were the focal points of my research. To be honest, I didn't dig into the history of our kind as deeply I probably could have. In my opinion, I didn't ever feel the need to. The problem with historical research is that you rarely find more than a couple accounts of the same individual that actually match one hundred percent. It is the ultimate game of Telephone, and I find that I learn more from investigating current, living figures than I do from those that are - at times - centuries old.

Do you look for willing participants to feed upon? When someone agrees to work with you, is he aware of the methods you normally use and the risks involved?
Absolutely. I adhere strictly to moral responsibility, and do not consume the energy of non-consenting donors. My donors are always aware of my actions, and the subsequent potential side effects. To me, my donors are my most valued and trusted companions. Because they are largely responsible for my well-being, it is my duty to treat them with the respect that they deserve. To do anything else is – to me – unconscionable. Period.

What else would you want people reading this interview to know about vampirism, that they wouldn’t learn from most sources? Would you ever consider publishing a book on the subject in the future?
Oh, wow… The subject of vampirism – its nature, definition, and existence – is dynamic and complex. Those of us that identify and live our lives as “vampires” do so for a reason, and everyone’s circumstances are different. I suppose the only real take-away I want readers to have is this – the world is not black and white. Just because someone disagrees with your beliefs or opinions does not make them “wrong” or “evil.” My wish for any who read this interview is the understanding that everything not based in concrete and quantitative fact is just another shade of grey. We all must find a balance between the darkness and the light, and once we’ve found the shade that suits us best, it is our duty to ourselves to embrace it with fervor and passion. Love yourselves... Love one another… And never, ever stop allowing yourself to learn, grow, and adapt.

-Dave Wolff

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