In the Jossyverse a vampire needs an invitation to enter a person’s home, that is the rule and it is simple enough. The trouble is, when you start to think about it, exactly what does that mean?
Until the invitation is given there seems to be an invisible barrier that prevents the vampire entering. This does seem to be just a barrier though, unlike a cross repelling and burning it doesn’t hurt the vampire in any way. Indeed the barrier is probably best imagined as behaving like a sheet of plastic stretched across the door, firm enough so a vampire can lean up against one (Untouched) but with enough elasticity to allow the odd hand or foot to get in around the edges (Angel). However, the vampire, if concentrating, can seemingly sense the presence or absence of the barrier from some slight distance. They are only seldom brought up short by the barrier, usually stopping well before they run into it, and on at least one occasion (Billy) Angel knew from several feet away that he would have no trouble entering.
Once given, an invitation removes the barrier from then on for that vampire, unless a spell is done to put it back in place. Incidentally, this spell – it seems to involve garlic, other herbs, nailing up of crosses, and a Latin incantation – may nowadays be in frequent use by the Scoobies, but it was rare enough that when first asked about it Giles did not even know if such a thing could be done (Passion).
But what are the precise rules that govern the presence or otherwise of a barrier? Exactly what they are and how to get around them would obviously have more impact on how vampires behave and hunt than almost anything else except for sunlight. In fact, the magical barrier changes hunting and living from child’s play into an ongoing challenge that would require a great deal of intelligence and experience to meet it safely.
The first thing worth noting is that a vampire requires an invitation to places where it was welcome as a human. Angel required one to get back into his human home (The Prodigal), and Aubrey’s son couldn’t enter her house after he became a vampire (Loyalty).
Of course the invitation barrier would be far less of a problem if just any human could provide the required invitation – a vampire could seize any passer-by and force them to invite him in. Unfortunately for the vampires and fortunately for the humans, this method does not seem to work. The Scoobies at least seem well aware that an actual member of the household has to give the invitation (The Real Me). Oddly enough the Watchers’ Council clearly taught Wesley that any human could suffice, but then they also gave him the mistaken notion that an invitation was needed for a demon’s lair (Somnambulist) so we can put this down to WC misinformation or Wesley not having paid enough attention in class. Angel has as always kept the details enigmatically to himself, but as far as I am aware there has been no instance of a vampire gaining entry to a human’s home by being invited by someone other than a member of the household.
So what is a proper invitation, and who counts as a ‘member of the household’? For example, for my purposes I need to know if the definition would extend to servants.
The rules about what constitutes an invitation seem pretty clear – it must be directed to the individual vampire or vampires, which does not automatically extend to the rest of their group (The Real Me), although they do not have to be invited by name as such. And it must be spoken, a gesture will not do (Lie to Me); although there is some evidence that a written ‘open house’ invitation, such as for a party, will suffice (Heartthrob). The invitation must also be positive – tacit invitations such as leaving the door open (Carpe Noctem) or Fred clearing a space for Angel to sit down (Heartthrob) were not enough. But fascinatingly it need not be specific to a time or location – Cordelia’s invitation to Angel was given before she had even chosen an apartment (Rm W/a Vu).
Just when a vampire needs an invitation is more complicated. The simplest case is for a house, when one is always required providing that the house is still inhabited by at least one living human. For an apartment block the corridors seem to need no invite but the individual apartments require one. The barrier dissolves the second the last resident dies (The Prodigal; Untouched); or to put it another way, if someone is away for the night, vamps will not be able to take over a house just by killing whoever stayed at home.
Ownership does seem to come into the equation – Russel was able to enter an apartment on the grounds that he owned the building (City Of), although interestingly Angel required an invite to Gunn’s hideout (War Zone), and I doubt Gunn or his gang were paying any rent. Whatever convoluted system of leasing Angel has on the Hyperion is clearly not sufficient to count as him owning it though, as Fred’s room needed an invite (Heartthrob). But hotel rooms seem to be slightly problematical, as Faith’s did not (Consequences). A college room does appear to need an invite however, certainly Spike (The Initiative) and Angel (The Yoko Factor) were both given one.
When is an invitation not needed? Any public place never seems to require an invitation, so hospitals, offices, schools, and shops are all fair game. That is presumably why apartment block corridors are open to all. And the lair of another demon doesn’t require one (Parting Gifts; Blood Money). Though one is left wondering as to what the rule is for the residences of half-demons. (And of course on one or two lamentable occasions the writers forgot about the invitation rule entirely. I will spare their blushes by not listing them.)
I think therefore that the key to the invitation barrier is the concept of a home. That I believe was the difference between Fred’s room needing an invitation and Faith’s not. It is because Fred considers the Hyperion her home, and I very much doubt Faith ever had similar feelings about her rented room. Of course it could relate to the Hyperion no longer being a hotel open to the public, or for all we know it could be to do with the daily rate. But there is a certain logic to the concept of ‘home’ being what creates the barrier. Humans are territorial and the emotional concept of a home is a very powerful one. And the nature of magic and belief is such that it places strong emphasis on such concepts as the sanctity of the hearth and the importance of the threshold. A threshold is an important thing in ancient symbolism, as separating the world into two halves: the inner, sacred space, and the outer profane region. When it is the threshold to a home it is also dividing off the space people most wish to protect. This is why in many cultures statues and other religious symbols are set on the doorposts of people’s homes, as a magical barrier to unclean spirits. And any strongly emotional force or belief is believed to have magical consequences – that is how the cross works, it is not the shape itself which causes the vampire to fear it, but the strength of human belief in its power which in magical terms makes it a strong symbol. In a similar way, such a powerful belief as the feeling of security associated with ‘home’, could be said to affect magical creatures like vampires. I would therefore propose that the power of the barrier and the ability to invite does extend to servants and lodgers, to anyone in fact who considers the place their home. It is interesting that the beliefs of demons do not seem to have a similar effect; this perhaps relates to the concept of the importance of a human soul in the Jossyverse.
This raises the interesting question of what happens if the household moves, does the invite stay working on the old building? It clearly doesn’t move with them to the new place – Angel had an invitation to Cordelia’s old apartment (Lonely Hearts) but when he later walked into her new apartment he said this was possible because of the new invitation she had issued (Rm W/a Vu) rather than any suggestion of the old invitation carrying over.
This makes sense if you consider the concept of home as the vital one. The invitation to a vampire would only be effective while the household that had invited him remained in residence; it would not be transferred to the new owners who would be re-creating the perception of ‘home’ for the house. Nor would the invite transfer automatically to the original resident’s new place – since it would be just that: a new home and hence a new barrier. And if someone has just moved into a house the barrier would only be effective from the moment he or she considered it as their home, hence someone who can’t really fell at home until after they have been resident for a while might find the barrier took a while to establish. And, conversely, if a vagrant felt sufficiently possessive of his cluster of cardboard boxes as to consider it home, the barrier could operate for him as well as it does on a mansion of bricks and mortar.
A vampire is an unclean demon, and as such barred from the sacred home-space by the power of the human soul’s belief in the sanctity of that space. Therefore, to reinstate the barrier the home needs to be re-purified by a ritual involving crosses, garlic, and other cleansing things. But by initially inviting a vampire in the householder is essentially sanctioning that vampire as a permitted being. To some extent they are both purifying the vampire and lowering the sanctity of their home. I think Spike’s reaction on being re-invited in (The Gift) in many ways epitomises the almost religious nature of the act – an extension of trust to an unclean demon.