E. John Winner
Let us begin with a technical clarification, by way of a discussion of the semiotic status of icons. An icon is a powerful representation, not only of an object or a person, but of the concept of that object or person; a reminder of what it is the perceiver of the icon may wish to know or learn from that object, that person, that idea.
An Icon is a sign which refers to the Object that it denotes merely by virtue of characters of its own, and which it possesses, just the same, whether such Object actually exists or not. (…) Anything whatever, be it quality, existent individual, or law, is an Icon of anything, in so far it is like that thing and used as a sign of it. 
An icon communicates information about what it signifies, not by pointing to it, nor by elaborating the concept of it, nor by referring to it, but by “showing” it; by assuming the likeness of the signified when the signified itself is not present. Thus, obviously a statue – even of a mythological personage – can be the icon of that personage, if it is carved to give us all the likeness of the character expected of the personage. Thus we expect a statue of Hercules to have well developed muscles, reminding us of his strength. But the kind and amount of information an icon can convey can actually vary quite a bit. An aerial photograph of a road would certainly be iconic of the road, but a map drawn on the basis of the photograph would be more so, because it could include greater details, for instance measurement, roadside attractions, etc. Unfortunately, icons are not univocal. They can represent exactly what we don’t want from their signified.
It may be questioned whether all icons are likenesses or not. For example, if a drunken man is exhibited to show, by contrast, the excellence of temperance, this is certainly an icon, but whether it is a likeness or not may be doubted. The question seems somewhat trivial. 
We want Peirce to have said, that the drunken man is made an icon of drunkenness, or of drunken men per se. But that is not what he is saying. Rather, he is contemplating the way in which the mere presence of a drunken man is iconic representation “by contrast” of what the temperate do not want from drunkenness. A sign may be iconic exactly in contrast to an object that is different from any form it may immediately represent. To put it simply: The drunken man stands in iconic re-presentation for “temperance” (continued non-drunkenness), because whatever he is or presents, will not be found among the temperate. He is not the picture. He’s the frame.
The sign can be an icon when it frames the interpretant with another interpretant. The interpretant of the drunken man includes his being drunk; the interpretant of temperance includes not being drunk. But there is no not-being-drunk unless there is also the possibility of being drunk. More technically: The definition of the class “drunken humans” stands as limit to a definition of all that is not to be defined as “drunken” but still defined as human, which satisfies the definition of the class “temperate humans.” Peirce called this trivial. It is silly because it is so obvious.
What is not obvious is the way that this transforms the drunken man into an icon for temperance. If a person looks at a drunken man; at his messed hair and watery eyes with dilated, unfocused pupils; his reddened, runny nose; the cut on his cheek from trying to shave with an unsteady hand; the bruise on his chin from when he stumbled and fell; the dried saliva at the corners of his lips; his soiled clothing and inability to stand straight; and then of course, the stench of stale drink and of urine.
The temperate person can see in this man all the signs of drunkenness as they look to an outsider, and might imagine what it must be like to live among others in such a manner: the insults; the unwanted pity and condescension; the incessant nagging of temperance missionaries. All of this is present in such a projection, except the actual experience of being drunk. It is the man himself who stands as an icon for his own condition. But it’s more than that. By inversion, if I do not want to be a drunken man, then he stands iconically for my condition of temperance. “That,” I say to myself, looking at the man (and smelling him), “is what I do not want. I want what he hasn’t got.”
So now we see that an icon can really prove a difficult signifier to interpret. Since it is representation in likeness of its signified, it raises all the questions we might have of the signified, including whatever ideas or responses we could have of it. It can even represent, by contrast, the signified’s opposite.
Think of the vampire; or more specifically, the mighty “king of vampires” of literary legend, Count Dracula. The first thing we notice about him is that he is a Count, an aristocrat, an ancient nobleman, and has been for some 500 years. He has control of a part of Transylvania, his home country, existing in a huge, highly decorative castle, commanding the farmlands below it. We have to remember that he’s a feudal lord; that the farmers and peasants who live around his castle are beholden to him in one way or another which explains why they allow him to feed on their livestock. Occasionally, they even allow him to steal away their daughters, something feudal lords did quite frequently during the Middle Ages. He has aristocratic tastes of a sort, and with aristocratic self-assurance he expects respect. Really, given the power and authority he seems to represent, who wouldn’t want to be such a nobleman and aristocrat? Of course, the 19th century is not the Middle Ages, and it is quite possible to imagine people in that century who would not have wanted to be aristocrats. Nobility had not survived very well through the terrors of the French Revolution, and even in other nations with more evolutionary political developments, their power had been receding greatly over the previous several centuries. They were losing control over vast areas of land and wealth, and political powers were passing into the hands of elected officials or civil servants (who came out of the propertied upper classes) and from commercial and industrial nouveaux riches. So it’s entirely possible to imagine many outside of Transylvania who might look on the aristocracy with fear and loathing. We can see how this might happen in the case of Dracula in particular, not only in the novel written by Bram Stoker but in many films derived from that novel or considered pastiche sequels to that novel. Dracula’s opponents in that narrative – the Sewards, the Harkers, Dr. Van Helsing – are all from the upper middle class: doctors and lawyers; even real estate executives so to speak; all living fairly comfortable lives. Dracula himself is confined to a castle that’s gloomy, drafty, and crumbling from disrepair. The lands he commands are considerably depopulated, and farm land in a mountainous region is not very wealth-producing anyway. Of course, Dracula has no friends or family and no way to communicate with others, because few wish to communicate with an out-of-date aristocrat one can only meet at night. In appearance, he is a decaying old man with fetid breath, a grizzly mustache and cold hands, and he dresses to impress rather than to stay warm. The English people who confront him, on the other hand, are dressed comfortably. They live in comfortable homes with improvements in heating and lighting – and towards the end of the 19th century, decent sewage systems – that Dracula could never have dreamed of in that dank Carpathian castle of his,. We forget how much of modern sanitation concerns – really the origin of modern environmentalism – owes itself to bourgeois desires for clean living conditions, both inside the home and out in the streets. But Dracula’s opponents also enjoy rich social lives. They have close intimate relationships with family and friends and are recognized as part of the community. No one owes them fealty, yet everyone who knows them respects them, because they are decent hardworking people who have earned that respect, something Dracula cannot do. And in place of the feudal power Dracula enjoys in his depopulated farmlands, his opponents enjoy the power of the vote. They can remove their “lords” through election.
Dracula as an icon represents loneliness; decaying old age; a reference to a bloody past. His presumed power and arrogance is really cold-heartedness, selfishness, and cruelty. This is precisely what the original, primarily middle-class readers of Stoker’s Dracula did not want, and that is what many of the audiences of the pastiche films and books and comic books and so on still do not want. Dracula as an icon represents something that looks on the surface to be the ideal of desirable, powerful, wealthy, sexy individualism. But, discovered in the dark crypt he inhabits, it also represents what we do not want – the loneliness and isolation that comes with separation from the laws of community and from ourselves as human beings. Of course, he also is dead – perhaps more accurately, “not alive,” – and won’t ever be found lying around on a beach soaking up sunlight. Yet being not quite dead, but not really alive, is precisely his curse. He is caught forever in the grip of a past that he cannot escape and a future he cannot embrace.
It is not surprising then that the icon Dracula himself fears most of all would be a representation of everything well trained Christians would believe to be the very apotheosis of human being. It was Aristotle in the Metaphysics who argued that the belief in God arises from the desire for perfection and for eternal life, and the crucifix not only stands iconically for Jesus-on-the-Cross, it also stands for something that is not on the cross. If we see in it the icon of a self-sacrificing god who redeems us, it may well also prove an icon of something about ourselves that is ungodly, and possibly nonredeemable.
The crucifix bends those who hold it a sacred icon downward in a convolution towards sorrow and pity, manifested physically in the bending of the knee and the bowing of the head. It’s a low moment for humanity, yet ideologically elevated to the very apotheosis of human being. But there is a positive turn in all this sorrow and pity, of course, or else there would never have been a Christianity. Christians think they have a good take on things that leads them to the hope of joy and comfort, after all. And our previous discussion concerning iconology, reminds that an icon not only stands in for what it represents, but also for the opposite of what it represents. The crucifixion of Jesus is held to be the painful death of a single man who also happens to be a god. Pain, death, the isolation of the individual on the cross, all redeemed only by belief in God. Thus the Christians (or at least the Catholics) read into the crucifix the hope for potential joy, unending life, the union of the human with the divine, and the redemption of human being itself. After death, which is key. Following the crucifixion is, of course, the resurrection and all that means to Christians. Jesus suffers the Passion and dies, on the third day he rises from the dead, gives a pep talk to his followers, and then ascends to heaven. All of this assures his followers (a) that pain is an impermanent state, and once beyond it, contentment and happiness ensue; and (2) that death is itself a transitory moment for the believer, who is then guaranteed eternal life of the soul, ascension into heaven, and joyful union with the divine. Who could refuse such an offer?
The full import of this iconic representation through the crucifix struck me while I was watching The Horror of Dracula from Hammer Films (1958), starring Christopher Lee as the Count and Peter Cushing as Dracula’s nemesis, Dr. Van Helsing. In the climatic showdown between the two, Van Helsing crosses two candlesticks. The vampire, being intimidated by Christian symbols, is forced into the sunlight coming in through an open window, and perishes. But, there’s something wrong here. The film is extremely well-made, well-written, well-acted, and brilliantly paced. It rushes by like a ride in a coach with a runaway horse. Consequently some problems are not only easy to overlook, but are hardly noticeable. It took me several viewings over some twenty years before I realized that the crossing of the candlesticks actually posed no threat to Dracula at all. In fact the gesture is down-right silly. The candlesticks appear before Dracula as intersecting in the shape of a cross, “+,” much as we should expect as symbolizing the instrument of the death of Jesus. But only as long as Dracula remains at the end of one the candlesticks. All he really has to do to mitigate the effect of the symbol is change perspective – say, step to the right, so that the crossed candlesticks would then form, for him, the harmless letter “x.” Is Dracula stupid or what? Think of all the moments in our lives when we have “+” images and “x” images surrounding us – crossed window panes; fallen twigs; cross-walk signs (etc.). Even at night, Dracula would surely find himself visually bombarded with threatening symbols. Why, he could hardly leave his coffin to get out for a cool drink. So what sort of mistake has been made by the producers of the film Horror of Dracula and many others like it? And why is this almost never noticed by audiences?
The British Horror of Dracula is a film produced in a Protestant culture for consumption by a majority-Protestant audience. Protestant churches largely suppressed such iconography, replacing it with a (rather watered-down, in my opinion) symbology. But according to the old legends, as they arose among rural Catholics in predominately Catholic cultures, no “cross” could have stopped the vampire; what one needed was a crucifix. Although fears of animated corpses sucking the life out of victims has a long history and can be found in many cultures, the term ‘vampire’ was not popularized until the early 18th century, after an influx of vampire superstition into Western Europe from areas where vampire legends were frequent, such as the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Local variants were also known by different names, such as vrykolakas in Greece and strigoi in Romania. This increased level of vampire superstition in Europe led to what can only be called mass hysteria and in some cases resulted in corpses actually being staked and people being accused of vampirism. 
The importance of this is that, despite more than a hundred years of Reformation upheavals, southeastern Europe was still dominated by conservative Orthodox and Roman Catholic beliefs. We would rightly expect that the cultural drift of the vampire legends would carry along the full baggage of the meaning of the creature, as well the spiritual armament necessary to combat it. But exactly because of the Reformation, this could not be so:
Some of the Protestant reformers, in particular Andreas Karlstadt, Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin, encouraged the removal of religious images by invoking the Decalogue’s prohibition of idolatry and the manufacture of graven (sculpted) images of God. 
Eventually the Reformers softened their stance – “Now if it is not sinful for me to have Christ’s picture in my heart, why should it be sinful to have it before my eyes?” noted Martin Luther – but the damage had been done. Protestants could accept symbolic portraiture of the Christ, but could no longer accept any such as a sacred icon. So, the vampire came west and north out of Catholic and Orthodox Europe and found a home in Protestant Europe, but without the necessary apotropaic: the Crucifix as talisman to ward off evil. They could no longer use the iconic crucifix to ward off the undead, but perhaps a symbolic cross would do as well.
The old legends of the vampires in southeastern Europe don’t really make sense, unless the crucifix functions iconically as a direct representative of the crucified Christ. As I’ve shown before, a symbolic cross will not do, because it can be reconfigured in perspective by moving to one side of it (and, as suggested before, the vampire has to be able to do this, simply to survive in a world filled with cross-like objects). For the crucifix to be a crucifix, there must not only be the cross, but also, as though nailed to it, a representation of a man, in suffering, presumed to present the very likeness of Jesus of Nazareth, assumed crucified in that manner. The vampire cannot walk around the crucifix and change perspective, for the importance is not in the shape, but in the iconic representation of Jesus on the cross and all that this was assumed to mean in the cultures that gave the (modern) vampire birth.
But perhaps that’s what Protestants found disturbing about it; the continued re-iteration of the death of God. While there are images and symbols of the Resurrection and of the Ascension, iconographically, Jesus is always dying on the crucifix. He hangs there, head bowed in despair, lacerated and bleeding. This may not be the way Protestants wish to imagine him, but for Catholics, there may be no other way. Eternal life is a tricky business. Get stuck under a curse, and one haunts the night alone, possibly forever. But die and be reborn, perhaps heaven awaits; or even union with the Divine. In the Eucharist, Catholics share in his death, through the transubstantiation of bread into his flesh, and of wine into his blood. “You will be flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood.” Oh, wait, that’s a line from Dracula. 
All this leaves some unsettling questions. Generated in conservative Catholic cultures, and assumed to have very physical manifestations, both the crucified Christ and the modern vampire are representations of death: death-before-afterlife on the cross and afterlife as animated death beyond the grave. The Christ dies to save all souls; the vampire’s death cannot even save his own. Both god-as-man and man-as-demon seem condemned to a body that will not continue, and a soul that will not let go.
 Charles S. Peirce, Collected Papers (C.P.), volume 2, section 247.
 Peirce, C.P., V. 2, s. 282
 Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897. Chapter 21.