I typically start watching a show years after it debuts, and then catch up in binge-watching bursts. True Blood is no different, so while Season 5 is new and fresh for me, it actually aired two years ago. As someone who enjoys thinking critically about religion, this season really stood out for me because a main plotline was the role of religion in the vampire community. The show posits a sort of vampire ethnic religion, complete with scriptures and its very own divinity, Lilith. The name “Lilith” has been given to approximately three bajillion various characters in genre media, but Lilith on True Blood was pretty specifically delineated. She is an ancient being who blurs the lines between messiah and deity, worshipped by a segment of the vampire population who call themselves Sanguinistas. After the jump, I’ll get more in detail about the rich religious parallels this season offered. Major spoilers for Seasons 5 and 6 of True Blood.
First, let’s start with Lilith herself. It is important to note that she is not a creator goddess, but rather is explained as God’s pre-eminent creation, made in God’s image to be the progenitrix of vampirekind. The “God” in question is never really elucidated; is it the Yahweh/Jehovah figure from the Judeo-Christian tradition? Possibly? The vampire religion also mentions Adam and Eve, but says they were created by God to populate the world with food for vampires. Regardless, Lilith insists that she is not God, even if she has been worshipped as a god. The question of the exact level of her divinity can be compared with the numerous developments in Christology that seek to address the same question about Jesus. “Jesus is the pre-existent second person of the Holy Trinity who became man in a hypostatic union of true god/true man” was not always the full story. The early history of Christianity was filled with a variety of views about the exact nature of Jesus, with funky names like Docetism, Arianism, Psilanthropism, and Patripassianism among many others. (Of course, once Chalcedonian Christology took over, these were all labeled “heresies” rather than “denominations”.) While we don’t get names of established positions or schools of thoughts about Lilith’s divinity, it does make for an interesting parallel.
Next, we have the Vampire Bible. Called alternatively The Original Testament or The Book of the Vampyr, this sacred text is the scriptural backbone for the teachings and beliefs of the vampire religion. The various extents to which vampires subscribe to the teachings is a brilliant commentary on questions of fundamentalism and Biblical literalism that face churches and society today. The Vampire Bible and vampire religion are clearly connected historically with the Vampire Authority, which was a politically active organization laying claim to, you guessed it, authority over all vampires. This makes the Authority, in theory anyway, a theocratic institution, far more explicitly than the U.S., regardless of what the modern day rhetoric used by some American politicians that “this country was founded on Christian principles” would imply. But in the show, we see the wide spectrum of beliefs about Biblical authenticity found in real-world modern religion: some vampires, namely the Sanguinistas, do profess a fundamentalist and literalist view that the Vampire Bible is the Divine Word, and they seek to translate their beliefs into actions that will shape how vampires exist and interact with the world (i.e. “It is our God-given right to eat all the humans”.) Most other vampires hold a skeptical view of this text, and do not use it to inform their political and personal choices.
The last religious question paralleled is extra tricky. Does God (or Jesus might be the more apt parallel) actually exist as an active being and not just a story? A heated question on a lot of people’s minds, but obviously not something that can be proved one way or the other in real life, it all comes down to faith. True Blood, however, seems a little more definitive, but in a plot-twisty way. The Authority has a vial of “Lilith’s blood” kept safely in a tabernacle. However, the authenticity of the provenance and nature of this blood are, much like the Vampire Bible, disputed, and views range from the literal to the symbolic. When, at one point, Authority members drink this blood, Lilith manifests before them… but they are all tripping balls. It is clear that drinking this has made them high as fuck and Lilith is a hallucination, raising the question: is Lilith, and in fact the whole vampire religion, a myth made up by the Authority as a means to legitimate power? That was how I understood it, until the end of Season 5 and the beginning of Season 6 prove that Lilith is a very real being after all.
To sum it up, the in-depth portrayal and exploration of vampire religion in Season 5 of True Blood was extremely interesting and thought-provoking. Like much speculative media, the show used fictitious elements to be a sort of mirror on real-world scenarios. The role of the Bible and Christianity, for better or for worse, on American cultural and political history is undeniable, and very much continues to be a major player to this very day for some political factions. The religious parallels in True Blood let us examine and think critically about questions of religious fundamentalism and Biblical literalism that continue to have a major impact on society.