by Stacey Lawless (22 Jul 94)
Roughly two thousand years ago-coinciding, perhaps, with the death of a carpenter's son from Galilee-a strange Vampiric bloodline arose in the Middle East. They call themselves Iscariots, and believe that they are the childer of Judas Iscariot and that they are called to be the shepherds of Christianity.
It is unknown what clan they arose from. The Tremere mutter darkly that the Iscariot progenitor was of the "diabolical" Salubri; they point to certain similarities of Disciplines as proof. Others feel that the Assamites spawned this bloodline, for here there are also similarities of Discipline, and the Iscariots have been known to actively hunt other Kindred.
There are those, however, who maintain that the Iscariots are decendents of the Followers of Set. They point to a bit of Iscariot apocrypha as the basis of the theory:
"When the Christ was being taken to Golgotha, Judas wept at the sight, aware that he had sold Christ into death and stained himself with innocent blood. In his shame, he committed suicide by hanging himself on the dusk of that day.
Then there came an Unclean One, a lamia of Egypt, and he cut down the body of Judas and poured his own blood into the mouth of Judas, and awakened him in a blasphemous manner. Then the lamia said to Judas, "Long have I sought to make a tool of the Galilean, and you have delivered Him and his followers into my hands. His light will become the beacon by which I lead his followers into the Darkness. For your aid, I have made you my son, that you may rejoice in Darkness and taste the black fruits that you yourself have sown."
But Judas stood and said to the lamia, "It will not be so. I taste the fruit of my sowing even now, and it is bitter and foul. As the demons of the desert of your origin fight each other, so I will fight you in Darkness. I will stand between you and His followers and shield them from your evil. I betrayed my friend and am damned for it, but I will not betray Him again." Then he turned and fled into the night.
The proponents of this theory point out that "lamia" was a common epithet for Vampires in those times, and in any case the pouring of the lamia's blood into Judas's mouth clearly betokens the Embrace. That the lamia is said to be "of Egypt" and speaks of darkness and manipulation certainly seems to indicate that he was a Setite. Unfortunately, the earliest written version of this story only dates from the early 1400's, and although Kindred scholars evinced much interest in it at that time, there is no indication that it was known at an earlier date. The story is as likely to be hoax or folklore as it is to be truth. Some have attempted to "verify" it by pointing out the known Setite preference for individuals with red hair; traditionally, Judas Iscariot is supposed to have red hair. However, the color of his hair most appropriately belongs to the realm of folklore; and in any case a Setite prediliction lends little weight to the factual accuracy of the story.
Certainly the Iscariots are a strange bloodline. Their members reject all ties to the community of Kindred, instead embracing a Christian-derived philosophy which sets them against all other Kindred. They have been tightly entwined with the Church for centuries, attempting to keep other Kindred from influencing it, and though they believe themselves to be eternally set apart from the human race, they hold it in more reverence than their own. Needless to say, these attitudes have not made them popular in the Vampiric community, and the Iscariots have been decimated in the last four centuries.
More strangely yet, there has been a schism in their ranks for the majority of their existence as a bloodline, based largely on differences in doctrine. Yet even today, when the bloodline teeters on the brink of extinction and perhaps only solidarity can save them, the Iscariots persist in maintaining this schism.
In what follows, I will put forward the history of the Iscariots, their motivations, their philosophies, and a description of their Discipline. In this way, though the Iscariots themselves may soon cease to exist, their unique contributions to vampiric history will not be lost.
History: The oldest known still-existing Iscariots are Matthias of Galatia (Embraced c. 120 A.D.) and Anahazra the Gnostic (Em. c. 200 A.D.). While both Kindred claim to have been Sired by the bloodline founder, neither one will speak of their Sire in any great detail. Matthias, who is a colleague of mine in the Inconnu, explains that his reticence stems from a request of his Sire's. He will say that his Sire was a Vampire of the fifth generation, that he exhibited all the powers of the Iscariot bloodline, that he maintained a strong interest in the early Christian religion, that Matthias has not seen him since shortly after his own Embrace, and that his name was Judas.
Matthias had converted to Christianity in life, and spent the first century of his unlife defending Christians from pogroms and detractors. He became convinced that orthodox Christianity (that is, a heirarchical version of the religion based upon the New Testament alone and legitimized by the idea of apostolic succession) must be made the sole form of the church, as its organised structure and well-defined leadership would both allow Christians to better protect themselves and be more palatable to secular governments. Accordingly he Sired twice and he and his Childer began laying a groundwork of support for the orthodox bishops. They also began struggling against the Ventrue of Rome, who were taking an interest in the religion. (Matthias will not speak of his Childer, save to say that they were "a mistake", and no longer in existence.)
In 214 A.D., in Jerusalem, Matthias encountered a strange female Vampire who accused him of being spiritually blind, and of failing in his duty to his flock by entrapping them in the same blindness. She was Anahazra, a Gnostic from Samaria, and though young as a Vampire she was powerful. Anahazra told Matthias that her Sire, Judas, had ordered her to "free my people from their chains." Matthias's orthodox Christians had declared Gnosticism (which held that the New Testament was only a starting point and that enlightenment came from personal communion with God, and which disregarded apostolic successsion) a heresy and were endeavoring to stamp it out. Anahazra told Matthias that the Church would only be safe when each Christian was his or her own source of wisdom. This veiw was completely contrary to his own. The two Iscariots quarreled and came to blows; Anahazra barely escaped, and Matthias has never seen her since.
Matthias and his Childer prospered, and his Childer Sired, and those Get Sired. Some of the Iscariots became Vampiric theologians, carefully molding both human doctrine and their own myths and legends. Others took up the sword and stalked Kindred of other clans who preyed on their flocks or attempted to exert control over the Church, while still others carefully ensconced themselves in positions of control within the Church. Under this careful tending the Church grew and thrived, but in time it became a huge, bloated bureaucracy, and corruption began to seep in. Matthias, disillusioned and weary, left to pursue the spiritual quest that would lead him to Golconda. With his guidance gone, the orthodox Iscariots fell to power plays and doctrinal sqaubbling, and other Kindred worked their way into the Church and tightened their hold over it.
During this time of orthodox growth, Iscariots would occasionally appear who rebelled against the directives of the Childer of Matthias. These Iscariots all seemed to have spent their breathing days as members of sects the orthodox Church punished as heretics: Gnostics, Albigensians, Waldensians, Cathars, Bogomils. They were the Childer and grandchilder of Anahazra. These Kindred had in many cases seen friends and loved ones persecuted and killed by the Church and were quite hostile toward it and the orthodox Iscariots. Some had broadened their blood-mission into the protection of all mankind from Darkness; others had become spiritual seekers and freedom fighters, and allied themselves with Kindred of other clans. If there are any Iscariots among the Sabbat, they are of the blood of Anahazra.
In an effort to strengthen the power of the Church, the orthodox Iscariots helped to institute the Crusades; and to purge the Church of the influence of other Kindred, and stamp out heresy, they pushed for the Inquisition. While wildly successful at first, the Inquisition soon backfired dramatically upon the Iscariots. Kindred of the newly formed Camarilla and Sabbat, both within and without the Church, ruthlessly hunted down all the Iscariots they could find. In addition, several canny human Inquisitors saw in their work a means of ridding themselves of Vampiric domination once and for all. The line of Matthias was nearly wiped out. The line of Anahazra was similarly decimated, though the heretics had nearly all actively worked against the Inquisitors.
The few remaining Iscariots have lain extremely low for the past two centuries, nursing their wounds and grievances. I have ascertained that there are twenty of the orthodox Childer of Matthias still in existence. Some of them have hidden themselves well in the heirarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, while others, refugees from the dissolution of the Soviet Union, have been migrating through Orthodox lands, seeking shelter. These refugees will probably be picked off by the Tremere, but certain clues indicate that the hidden orthodox have begun to Sire again.
I believe that there are some eleven heretic Iscariots remaining in the world, though I am not completely certain of the number. Many of them learned early on to disguise their lineage. Of the heretics I can only say: they tend to be nomadic, rarely staying in one place for more than a decade; they are of a more philosophical bent than their orthodox brethren; nearly half their number are female (females among the orthodox were a rarity, and to my knowledge none exist now); and they do not scorn the company of Kindred of other clans (as the orthodox are wont to do), though they generally do maintain a polite distance.
Matthias believes, and my research seems to indicate, that Anahazra still exists. A Kindred matching her description has been reported in Central America several times in the last five years, moving among peasant rebels and proponents of "liberation theology". We believe she has attained Golconda, but no Inconnu has been able to contact her. There is some indication that the Sabbat of Mexico are also searching for her.
Philosophy: The Iscariots, both orthodox and heretical, may best be understood by the general philosophies utilized by the two groups. The orthodox are known to veiw themselves as being accursed, but in a peculiarly honorable way; damned, but able to attain salvation through hard work and struggle. They pay little heed to the mythologies of the majority of Kindred, as they see all other Kindred as being eternally damned and akin to the fiends of Hell. They also reject the idea of Golconda, viewing it a demonic illusion designed to lure them from the "true path". Matthias is the only one of their number to attain this state, and it must be noted that he estranged himself from his own descendants centuries ago.
The orthodox see their Humanity as the key to attaining "redemption" and salvation. They view the Christians of the world as both their Herd and "flock" which they are called to protect from all ravages of evil. Yet though they are the defenders, they themselves are unable to attain salvation unless they become like their charges, whom Christ died to redeem. That is, to be saved they must become Humane. Thus the orthodox spend a great deal of time and effort trying to suppress the Beast and raise their Humanity. Many have failed at this task, allowing themselves to become too fond of their own power and influence, and in the process becoming much like the Kindred they so despise.
Should an orthodox Iscariot manage to purify himself to his most Humane [a Humanity of 10], he spends a year and a day in ritual seclusion, then is extinguished by beheading. The blood is collected in a chalice and is used as the Sacrament in a solemn Mass for the extinguished. Other than this requiem Mass the Iscariots do not perform any Christian rites, though most of them were priests in life and certainly know how. They believe that to do so would be blasphemous. The reason the requiem Mass is the single exception is that the extinguished Vampire has attained Humanity and been redeemed; it is proper to say the Mass for him, and the surviving Iscariots who participate are there to learn by their redeemed brother's example.
Orthodox Iscariots maintain the Masquerade, but do not recognize the Camarilla as an authority in anything, since they see it as merely a loose confederation of devils. They hate the Sabbat with a passion, not so much because these Kindred are more overtly evil than their Camarilla rivals, but because the Sabbat's organization is patterned on the Church and many of their rites and titles are mockeries of Christian ones. To the orthodox Iscariots, few things could be more insulting.
The heretic Iscariots are more individualistic than the orthodox; while all of them bear the unmistakeable stamp of Christian influence, their views and beliefs are their own. They do have certain traits in common: they appreciate and value humankind, and feel obliged to defend humans from supernatural threats; they believe that it is more important to search for Truth than to put one's faith in dogma; they feel that other Kindred are capable of salvation; and they believe that salvation may be found through Golconda. While most of them stress the importance of maintaining Humanity, at one is known to follow the Path of Harmony instead. Where she learned it, I do not know.
They all share another belief, that dovetails with their acceptance of the reality of Golconda. The Gnostics believed that the God of Israel worshipped by the Jews and orthodox Christians was not the true God, but only a sort of lieutenant who was in charge of creating the material world. This lieutenant, called the demiurge, became jealous of the true God and told mankind that he himself was their God and they must worship him. The Gnostics rejected the demiurge and searched for the true God by sifting through their own psyches, for the true God had given humans their souls and minds. The heretical Iscariots conclude from this, logically enough, that the soul-searching of the way to Golconda is the way that Kindred reach the true God and become enlightened.
The heretics maintain the Masquerade but tend to pay the Camarilla little attention. Most of them maintain another sort of Masquerade as well: they pass themselves off as members of other clans in order to protect themselves.
Clan Disciplines: Auspex, Potence, and Pastoralis.
Weakness: The weakness of the bloodline, aside from the fact that both the Camarilla and Sabbat officially despise Iscariots, is that they are terribly sensitive to Faith. Any attempts to use True Faith to affect an Iscariot automatically succeed. Moreover, they are affected by crosses in the manner of Hollywood vampires, provided that the cross is being wielded by a mortal who is untainted by the supernatural (i.e., Magi, ghouls, the Dominated, etc.). Thus, a frightened human's movie- created instinct to ward off the Vampire with a pair of crossed pencils might indeed save them from attack by an Iscariot. Matthias suspects that his descendants find this terribly embarrassing, but what can they do?
I hope that my efforts to record this lineage do it some justice. These "Judas Goats", as they have been nicknamed, doubtless would not appreciate my efforts, much as the early Christians would have disdained pagan efforts to quantify them. Likewise, many Kindred would prefer to see these self-appointed defenders of man vanish silently into the sands of time. Still, the Iscariots are a part of our fragmented and fractious race, and as such I cannot allow them to be forgotten.
Adso, scholar of the Inconnu