Worldbuilding: A Question of Will

How do you prove to skeptical strangers that you’re not under vampiric mind control?

This is a serious question that could come up for an isekai’d character if he encounters people from modern Earth again. After all, just about everyone “knows” what a vampire is like. See Dracula.

(Don’t get me started on how well most people actually know Dracula. With the exception of the very weird and definitely not Catholic things Van Helsing does with the Eucharist, Stoker’s vampire lore in the book is fairly accurate to the vampires of Eastern Europe. The movies… not so much.)

Just saying that this vampire isn’t like Dracula may not cut any ice. Sure, said vampire may not turn into mist or a wolf, or need a coffin filled with native earth, or be held down by a wild rose… but the whole mind influence, hypnosis, telepathy with those blood-connected bit? Yeah, he’s got them. He could mind-control our poor isekai’d guy. If he wanted to.

Thing is, our vampire has morals. Very good ones. He could, but he wouldn’t.

(Also for pragmatic reasons, he wouldn’t. Said isekai’d guy has become not just a source of interesting info on the upcoming… mess, that is the whole 17th century, but also a trusted battle companion and a pretty good shot in a clinch. And he’s friendly and loyal. Why do anything that would make him less likely to trust you?

(Yes, a good guy can also have practical reasons to act morally. It’s allowed.)

So our isekai’d guy’s mind is quite safe. But how does he convince anyone else of that?

I’m pretty sure for the most part he’s going to try to avoid the question ever coming up. For one thing, the fact that the head of this group of demon-slayers is a vampire falls under Need To Know Information to outsiders, and even if these are fellow Americans, Jason likely thinks they do not need to know. Vampires, after all, are very fragile if you know their weaknesses, and why on earth would he let someone jump to a conclusion and stake one of his best friends out on a beach at noon? No. Just no.

The problem is that modern Americans are curious folk, and stories tend to throw heroes into stressful crisis situations, so the odds of someone putting two and two together and figuring out yes the guy is a vampire… are not zero.

So what does he do? Besides talk very, very fast, and pray….

Throwing this out to you guys in case you have ideas!

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66 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: A Question of Will

  1. Mind control in general is a rabbit hole of paranoia that never ends.

    Mainly because even attempting to determine the parameters could be hazardous.

    Does the mind control actually end at dawn, or is that what they want you to think?

    Then there’s the question of what you do when the mind control breaks and they have a bad response afterwards.

    Once you declare that another person is not competent to make decisions about their own life, things start getting ugly.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. If it’s really crucial that he stay, they may have to end up having the vampire mindcontrol the suspicious person and tell him it’s all false. Lunacy being a reason to override will.

        OTOH, if there are actual vampires in the world, there may be techniques or superstitions on how to tell, which could be deployed. It’s unlikely that they just lived in helpless paranoia.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Blessed objects is all I can think of– the vampiric influence is usually framed as similar to demonic influence, and that’s countered with blessings.

    Heh, picturing someone walking up behind very-fast-talking-guy and dumping holy water over his head, then asking him questions. 😀

    (The head-canon that the Hosts used in Dracula were NOT consecrated avoids most of the big problems I can remember with their theology– and makes it more like using a crucifix.)

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Heh, most folks don’t think about the demonic angle– same way they don’t think about the Consecrated Host being literally the Body of Christ, so “make a putty of it” is… not something that’s OK. Dispensation or not.

        Liked by 5 people

      2. Well, more to the practical point, making putty out of a wafer makes it _not_ look like bread. Losing the appearances of bread (or wine) makes it not the Eucharist anymore, and hence not Christ anymore or holy anymore. (There are a lot of blasphemous things to do that also destroy the whole point of the blasphemy. And dissolving consecrated hosts in a small blessed container, with water, is a fairly standard way to dispose of them without actually letting anything bad happen.)

        Now, if you were just wetting the back of a wafer and sticking it to something, like a wall, you’d maintain the integrity of the appearances of bread.

        Of course, things may vary a lot when you are dealing with an Eastern church, so I don’t know what the theology of using Eastern consecrated, leavened hosts would be. (Other than not a good idea. And it might look like little cubes of bread, which isn’t terribly Goth.)

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Maybe try the argumentative route if that fits with your characters personality? Keep demanding to know why they think x when “it’s obviously not true.” And the more their opponent insists that their right, try turning it around with “when people are pushing that hard to blame someone else, it’s suspicious. What are /you/ hiding?”

    Of course if your guy isn’t argumentative by nature then don’t have him go that route— “out of character behavior is a sign of mind control!” Though this is your historian right? Historians do tend to argue over obscure, and not so obscure facts.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Insisting something is obvious when it… isn’t really… seems like it would be the opposite of reassuring. I know it works to deceive or pressure people in some situations, but if they already think your thinking might be forcibly messed up, it doesn’t seem likely to help.

      Liked by 6 people

  4. Oof, that’s a tough one. Foxfier’s idea would help, I think – a holy water dunk would not only be *really funny*, but if all he did was screech and say, “Why did you – AUGH! THAT’S COLD!” while the vamp skittered away from the water hiding a laugh behind his hand, it would pretty good confirmation there was no mind-control involved.

    The only other option I can think of is to have a telepath who is trusted look over the two and say, “Yeah, they’re fine.” After a point, that’s the only way to stop the spiral of paranoia, short of Heroic Sacrifice or Fight To Save the Innocent’s Mind. I mean, if your vampire doesn’t as a rule mind-control people anyway, then when he sees someone else doing it *for kicks* at another’s expense, he might get a *little* ticked off. If he has a proven/known history of bringing the hammer down on bad telepaths and getting *really angry* when they’re brought up, that might be enough to get people to go, “Okay, I’ll give him *a chance.*”

    “(Yes, a good guy can also have practical reasons to act morally. It’s allowed.)” Why don’t more writers do that? “Oh, no, that’s a terrible thing to do. Very cruel, I don’t want to do that. Also, you’re a good battle buddy, so trying to mind-control you would totally wreck our current partnership. Seriously, I understand why you’re worried, but if I can’t convince you of my morals, here’s a *very practical* reason why I wouldn’t do this to you. Waste of time, effort, and resources. Sheesh!”

    Liked by 3 people

      1. *G* There’s also a way to write one Korean version of his name, Jae-seong, so it effectively means, “caught a falling star”.

        Which I think is a pretty good name for a guy isekai’d by way of airplane falling through a hole in the sky.

        Liked by 5 people

      2. Thanks!

        …You may also be amused to know that there’s at least one historical guy in the Imjin War known for dodging enemy bullets. (Kwak Chaeu, 1552-1617, need to look him up.) So various vampiric abilities can be hidden under “heroic capabilities” fairly easily….

        Liked by 3 people

      3. Okay, I’m looking him up. The anime trope of being fast enough to dodge bullets is often criticized. But if it’s based on *actual fact* – oh, I am *pouncing* on this!

        If you find a book about him, please share!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. The book I found him in (under the different Romanization of his name) was this one.

        Haboush, JaHyun Kim (2016), The Great East Asian War and the Birth of the Korean Nation.

        From what bits I can find, I don’t think I want to coopt him as a character, but he could definitely be someone a couple of the main characters knew.

        …Dodging bullets in his 40s, hot darn.

        Liked by 3 people

  5. There’s also the interesting question of how someone proves to _themselves_ that they’re not under vampiric mind control–after all, if it’s something going on at the most basic level of your own head, are you necessarily going to be able to notice?

    (A question that’s going to be coming up in my work by and by; the character in question will be taking the rather reckless route of _insisting_ the vampire feed on her. Finding afterward that he still annoys her will be her reassurance she isn’t being messed with.)

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Considering she’s only recently learned at that point that she basically only _exists_ because of mind manipulation, she’s a tad jumpy on the subject. Though she’s actually safe enough (I’m going out of my way to avoid every possible vampire romance cliche; vampiric feeding is still something of an intimate act, but not supernaturally so), _she_ has no reason to know that.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Hm… that’s an interesting question, and one to which I should give some serious thought. This is actually for one of my SAO fics–Progressive recently introduced vampires, and IMO did so in a very interesting fashion–so I need to take gameplay mechanics into account as well as more mundane factors. …I seem to remember silver nitrate has medical uses? That would definitely be Bad. Not sure yet what other risk factors would logically exist, but you’ve certainly pointed me in an interesting direction.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Generally, trying to test things of the woo has a theoretical issue, because the unknown or missing information deeply compromises the process of finding tests and thresholds.

    Testing of widgets is, at least in theory, somewhat trustworthy. But, that is only because there are a lot of frequently unstated assumptions that may actually be correct. Trying to generate the assumptions and processes from scratch can be a bit difficult and time consuming.

    Something like Zener cards have a lot of assumptions. It is a telepathy test, but it makes assumptions about proximity, transmitter receiver pairing, frequency of telepathic potential, and numbers of symbols necessary for exceeding random chance. These could be wrong, and then the Zener card test could fail to detect a telepathy which did exist. My view is that these assumptions were probably selected because of group think, rather than having serious reason to be sure that they are correct.

    Widget tests, took a lot of inherited assumption testing before things hit critical mass.

    A fair number of RL magic tests involve discarding some of the inherited opinions/information. Specifically, ‘this stuff is bad or dangerous, do not touch’.

    Fantasy worlds, especially with verifiable woo, can often stand to have some thinking done along these lines. Especially if ‘sciencing things’ is supposed to be a major plot or character element.

    Human psychology is really weird, and this can be pretty confounding. The purely material explanation of the human mind has to include ‘supposing that demons do not actually exist, as a practical matter they do’.

    Religion partly serves as a framework to navigate that mess, well or poorly.

    Specifics, here? Dunno, and I probably need to take a break from this subject. Got some other projects to think my way through today.

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  7. Different rules for different vamps makes this extra messy. Well presumably monster hunters would have a check for this but when your hunter IS the vampire well.

    My first instinct is “well I’m not shooting him!” But the holy water bath might be a thing. Or I dunno an iron nail ring? Depends on the breed of vamp? I dunno if I was trying to prove I wasn’t mind controlled I would volunteer to do a prank or very minor violence on person maybe mind controlling me l? A Renfield isn’t gonna put a tack in his master’s chair.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. The problem is that you can’t argue “Not mind controlled” unless you know the details of that power. Rachel Neumeier has a series “Tuyo” where mind controll is actually fairly common in small ways. But it doesn’t last long if the sorceror isn’t nearby, and normally the sorceror can only control a few people. People who are on the verge of a business deal will go away to the next town and think about the deal. If after a week it still seems like a good idea, they come back and sign the papers. Of course this only works for low power sorcerors but the very powerful sorcerors are very very rare.
    If a vampire can force someone into a permanent thrall like a traditional Renfield, it could only be detected by someone who knows the person very well. Perhaps it could be broken by holy water or being in a holy place but again that only works if you know the limits of the vampire powers.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Reciting the Lord’s Prayer is usually regarded as a good test, in folklore. Good ghost or bad ghost? Have them say the Lord’s Prayer! Apparition of Mary or demon? Have them say the Lord’s Prayer! Possessed or not? Have them say the Lord’s Prayer!

    Of course, not everybody today knows how to say the Lord’s Prayer… or they might know the Protestant version instead of the Catholic one….

    Crossing yourself, of course, although that can get fraught in East vs. West situations.

    Successfully saying the name of God, generally, although that could be fraught with a Jewish character. But yeah, that’s one of the reasons that you have people say the Lord’s Prayer. (Granted, some of the demons in the Gospels apparently manage to say the Name, but they aren’t in a good position at the time.)

    Reciting Bible verses, sometimes, but “the Devil can quote Scripture” as we see in the temptation in the desert. Not saying a lot of divine Names, though.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. All that said… mind control really wasn’t a folklore thing. Love potions, yes. Trickery of various kinds, sure. Sometimes illusions and glamours. But not mind control.

    I guess that’s a modern fear. Because the ancient and medieval idea was that the will was free, thoughts were free, and so on.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Amusingly, it turns out that Johnny Faa died in 1553, and that Child debunked the association of the lady in the song with Jean Hamilton, the Earl of Cassilis’ wife, who died in 1642. (She died blamelessly in her own bed, thank you very much, and had three kids too.)

        The current Earl of Cassilis is a guy named Archibald Kennedy, who is the heir to the Marquess of Ailsa. Gotta say, being Earl of Cassilis is a better cooler title, but there you go. And if you’re the Marquess, you’re also Clan Chief of the Scottish Kennedys, so that’s a consolation.

        Liked by 2 people

  11. I suppose that if you had a glass “serpent’s egg” that let you win all lawsuits, it suggests some kind of mind control, unless you’re supposed to picture it as giving one extreme good luck. That’s a Welsh thing, although it also shows up in Pliny somewhere.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Oh, and spells of forgetfulness, or Lethe water, or shaking a mantle of forgetfulness between two people. Causing someone to forget is definitely on the order of mind control, and that does show up a lot in folklore. But usually that’s about either love, or the souls of the dead forgetting who they are when they reincarnate.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That really goes into how you count things. Result? Cause? Process? etc. Does arranging a series of circumstances, knowing the other person’s thought-process in sufficient detail, that the person’s reaction can be predicted sufficiently to control the outcome count as “mind control” even when no direct interaction with the person’s mind (or even the physical hardware of their brain/body/etc) was involved? What about use of a Basilisk Pattern? What about stuff like “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart”? (you’ve undoubtedly met someone who, on hearing some specific term/phrase immediately gets their hackles up and cannot think clearly or pay attention to the actual details, they’re just rejecting “that term” even if by reacting that way they’re actually supporting it because they didn’t recognize that the one they were objecting to was actually arguing _against_ it. and yes, for a lot of people, it’s the suggestion “there might be some higher authority than you… like God”, that does it. no actual “external control of the mind” involved). Does body language count as mind control when the person is using it on purpose to control the victim’s reaction? (If you answer yes to that last one, you’re saying that all con-men and politicians and public-speakers are guilty of mind control)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Reposting since WP seems to have swallowed my original comment:

        On the “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” thing, I’m not sure that counts as mind control, because if you read the passage, Pharaoh hardened his own heart at first. Out of the 10 times that the story lists Pharaoh’s heart being hardened, IIRC the text says 6 times “But Pharaoh hardened his heart, and did not let the people go.” Then there’s one case of passive voice “But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not let the people go” which could be attributed to either Pharaoh or God. Only after Pharaoh has hardened his own heart 6 or possibly 7 times, does the text start saying “But God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people go,” which happens (IIRC) 3 times.

        In other words, in the story of the Exodus from Egypt, the story presents Pharaoh as digging in his heels and being stubborn, up until the point where God says, “Okay, that was your last chance. Now I’m removing the possibility of you changing your mind.” To use a car analogy, Pharaoh started driving down the road to disaster, and at some point (once Pharaoh was quite far down the road) God locked the steering wheel so he couldn’t turn around. But he was the one who chose to go down that road, and continue going down it for more than half the distance, before God intervened. Pharaoh made his own choices, God just made sure he couldn’t escape the consequences at the last minute.

        Most of the time when you think “mind control”, you think of making people do things they wouldn’t normally do. But in this story, God is making Pharaoh do something he’d already chosen to do. So while the term “mind control” could be argued to apply to this situation, I personally would argue against using that term, because the impression it would give would be more wrong than right.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Right. That was the point I was making. When people are claiming “mind control”, they’re usually being rather careless in how they define it, flip-flopping between mutually contradictory definitions for every single example they use, and not considering the followup questions of “if I count X as ‘mind control’, then what definition must be required to make it so, and what other things that I _wouldn’t_ count as ‘mind control’ must actually be counted as such to maintain a consistent definition?” That’s also why I asked some of the example questions I did, as several of the things mentioned can involve cases where which side you are looking at can determine how you define it.

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      3. Well, the Egyptian language idiom just meant “the Pharaoh made his heart strong and resolute,” and there was a lot of praying for Egyptian kings to be helped in this by the gods. Pharaoh literally got what he asked for, both ways.

        So the original (human) author seems to have been making a funny point that is totally lost on us moderns (unless we’re Egyptologists), and the divine author seems to have been content to wait centuries to let the joke drop on people again.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Well, the Egyptian language idiom just meant “the Pharaoh made his heart strong and resolute,” and there was a lot of praying for Egyptian kings to be helped in this by the gods.

        Oooh, that would go along very well with the other miracles in Egypt being variations of “Anything you can do, I can do better.”
        (Some by doing the same thing, some by overwhelming the thing.)

        Liked by 1 person

      5. It gets seen every day. Anyone who’s let a habit develop can find it hard to break however bad it is. Once you have hardened your heart enough, your will is not needed.

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      6. It’s not just that… “Pharaoh hardened his heart” also can mean “Pharaoh made his heart heavy”. Which… doesn’t sound all that interesting until you get to the Egyptian afterlife where someone’s heart being heavier than Ma’at’s feather means it gets eaten (which is essentially annihilation given what the Egyptians believed about the heart). Ma’at is the Egyptian concept of “justice/righteousness/order” and what the Pharaoh was supposed to uphold. So… Pharaoh doing what he’s doing in Exodus is implied to be going against Ma’at…

        Funny how the more you know about Ancient Egyptian Mythology/Religion, the more awesome the 10 Plagues get. It’s not just “disaster strikes and ruins things”. It’s “our one god is fighting your entire pantheon by himself and wiping the floor with them…. are you *sure* you really want us to *stay* here where he can keep doing that?” and Pharaoh is doing the equivalent of “yes, I’m *sure*” when his country is falling into chaos around him. And… chaos in most Near Eastern cultures of that era is always considered a *bad* thing…

        In essence… Pharaoh is demonstrating that from start to finish, he really isn’t interested in Ma’at, but in his own ego.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. To break the spell on zombies – the older kind, not the undead brain eating metaphors for rabies/communism/etc Hollywood loves so well- one has to feed them salt. Would vampire mind control break if the controlled one ate a purifying food? Or garlic?
    This comes from a story I’m remembering from some child’s guide to spooky things, so it’s not necessarily accurate, but as I recall, the zombie myths originated in Haiti and the Caribbean. Those who were under the zombie spellcasters influence were shambling and obedient workers until a well meaning missionary’s wife gave them salted peanuts as a treat.
    Tasting the salt, they woke, and wept, because they knew they were dead.
    The spellcaster’s powers over them broken, the ex zombies left where they’d been forced to work, and climbed back into their graves, where the bodies began to decay as soon as they touched the grave dirt.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. This is a case of “technically true, practically wrong”. Most cultures had myths of something “reasonably close” to the greater gestalt concept that is now termed “zombie” or to the greater gestalt concept that is now termed “vampire” (or, for that matter, the concept now termed “mana”), but they all obviously had at least minor differences or only covered some of the traits (even the name-providers for those terms didn’t have _all_ of the traits now associated with them), and they all had _different names_ for the things they referred to. The _name_ “zombie” is from the source you describe (or at least came to be associated with that concept from that source), but it wasn’t the “first” version of “something within the overall concept-range of ‘zombies'” by a long shot (even if it did over-write and consume all the other terms as far as common knowledge is concerned).

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Actually movie zombies are a good representation of medieval European notions of vampires.

      Possibly the notion can be debunked by going at the root and pointing out he can’t be a vampire because he’s too intelligent.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Driving people crazy, or curing madness — that’s somewhere on the mind control scale, I guess.

    But getting into mental illness is even more edgy than some of the other stuff, even though “the hero goes mad and runs off into the wilderness” is a pretty solid heroic trope.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Or has a breakdown… like Elijah after his victory on Mt. Carmel. Miraculous proof of which God was real, then outrunning the king’s chariot, then breaking down and fleeing into the wilderness to complain that all the world is against him when he comes down from the high of victory after getting a death-threat.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jezebel, man. Once I took that Great Learning course on the history of Mesopotamia, from that chick who used to be a bass player… the whole dynamics of “Hebrew guys marrying Mesopotamian princesses” suddenly made sense.

        Jezebel thought she was her dad’s branch manager, and that her husband was her assistant manager, and that their marriage was Ahab’s submission to being her dad’s vassal. Once you realize that, everything makes sense. Everything she does is a perfect example of a Mesopotamian branch manager’s jobs.

        And the gebirah Athaliah is a perfect example of “the branch manager takes over for herself.”

        It’s not clear if any of the kings of Judah and Israel ever realized this, because the culture clash was Just So Big, or if they just didn’t want to talk about it, because it was So Embarrassing.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Mesopotamia, taking a king’s daughter as your wife meant you were subordinate, son to a father.

        Egypt, taking a king’s daughter as your wife meant HE was subordinate, had to give you his daughter.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Anyway, I’m pretty sure that Elijah thought that Ahab would go home, grab all his wife’s servants and take them away, put her somewhere safely inaccessible without writing materials, and thus free himself of Manager Karen.

        Instead, Ahab went home to Manager Karen and went back to saying, “Yes, dear.”

        So when Jezebel sent Elijah a message, she was basically saying, “I’m still the real king and I’m going to execute you, and no, you and your god didn’t kill off my entire power base.”

        Now, if God had sent Elijah the word that He was going to zot Jezebel, I’m sure Elijah would have stuck around. But as it was, that was a serious vow, not a threat.

        Of course, Jezebel didn’t catch Elijah, so it could be said that eventually her vow did backfire on her, just as she had asked for, in her vow….

        Liked by 1 person

    2. How does crazy even work?

      There are official narratives, but some of them are pretty sketchy.

      There are popular narratives, but those do include questionable elements, stuff that may be provably false.

      Which is to say, society may consider it edgy, but there is room for truthful takes on the subject.

      Though, making a story implementation about the goal of making some point or another to an audience can very easily kill the story.

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      1. Sorry, I was unclear.

        Modern official narratives about what insanity is, and what mental health is.

        Modern popular narratives about what insanity is, and what mental health is.

        IE, at times including examples of people who grasp of the topic appears to be worse than mine was at fifteen, or ten, or /five/.

        I think at five, I was deliberately making a decision to try to be friendly and cheerful about things, and treat people in a way that makes things easier and causes little harm.

        Now, I know that my internet presentation is pretty much angry jerk. But, I do still make efforts in the direction of living cheerful, happy, and decent to others. Despite some prolonged depression as an adult, and some shorter periods of Not Being Well.

        But, it does not seem to be hard to beat the official and the popular, when it comes to thinking about this stuff, and about good advice for living.

        Implementation is a bit more difficult. The best advice is really hard to follow, because it points at what is worth doing, and worth doing is never easy. (Or, rather, what we talk about as worth doing is the residue of good things that is left after you subtract the stuff that is easy.)

        Liked by 1 person

  15. The question is how much is mind control connected to memory?
    That is, does controlling someone’s mind give you access to their memory? For that matter, does it allow them access to their OWN memories? Are they just puppets with no will or thoughts of their own, or are they autonomous individual you can force to do your bidding?

    Liked by 1 person

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