This article first appeared in The Camden Journal on May 5th 1972, a (then) sister paper of the Hornsey Journal.
– a rapidly decaying relic of Victorian architecture – has now become the centre of the growing interest in the occult sciences.
First reported in the Press in 1970, the now almost legendary vampire of Highgate Cemetery started the trickle of interest, which has now become a flood.
On the eve of Sabbaths in the occult calendar, hundreds of people gather outside the gates of the cemetery to catch a glimpse of the “vampire”. For the last two Hallowe’ens’ police have been called to control the mob that forms at midnight.
Many local people have reported seeing the “vampire”, several of whom wrote to the local Press describing their experience. The British Occult Society decided to investigate after I had witnessed the phenomenon on two occasions.
The investigation was carried out to a strict schedule for a period of six months, during which there was always at least one member of the society watching in the cemetery. The parts we concentrated on mainly were the Columbarium ((a sunken circle of tombs) and an area close to the top gate where the sightings had been most frequent.
As you can imagine, a thorough investigation of this type in a cemetery is not an easy matter. Every vigil carried out by the society met with obstacles whether it were Satanic worshippers, vandals or the police. I have been arrested twice although fortunately I was able to clear my name by proving that I was a genuine occultist.
Not all our investigations, however, have been entirely unsuccessful and as a result of our findings I have no doubt in my mind as to the existence of the “vampire-like creature” which haunts the cemetery.
I think at this stage it is important to explain a very important factor, that being the actual definition of a “vampire”. In so doing perhaps I can remove the element of ignorance from the minds of the many sceptical people who regard vampires among the absurdities of the supernatural. Indeed, with the true facts buried deep beneath so much fallacy and exaggeration, it is hardly surprising the truth has been lost amongst the legends of the misty past. So in order to be able to draw any sort of accurate conclusion, one has to go to the heart of the legend.
There is no doubt, however, that legend is based originally on fact however misdirected and exaggerated it may have become through the centuries.
But it was during the 19th century that the vampire made its impact. In 1847 “Varney the Vampire” (a novel by Thomas Priest) became so popular that it was reprinted many times, before it was finally over-ridden by Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” – written with all its Victorian authenticity – that has given birth to the vampire as we know it today.
It is the Dracula of this book which makes the vampire seem like a “fanged blood-sucking beast” which has escaped from a Hammer horror film: but this is not a fair conception. At least not quite. Although it would be untrue to say there is no connection between the two; there can be no doubt that by becoming commercialised the vampire has lost much of its original authenticity. This is a pity becomes even more difficult to separate fact from fact, or fiction from legend.
By this it must not be presumed that the legend has originated from the book. The book has originated from the legend. It is even likely – in an uncanny way – that the Highgate phenomena inspired Stoker in the writing of “Dracula.” (It is interesting to note that Stoker makes direct reference to Highgate Cemetery as one of the resting places of one of Dracula’s disciples.) From this an interesting point arises. Was Stoker’s knowledge derived from ancient myth, or was he too that perhaps something of this kind was in existence? It is unlikely that we shall ever known, but if the latter is true, it could provide an interesting clue to the present phenomena.
One thing is certain however, and this is the actual legend has been in existence long before it came to light in the 19th century. The actual date is not clear, but references is made to vampirism as early as the Medieval era.
Although there is no evidence to substantiate that the Highgate vampire is recorded as far back as this, there are too many reports to ignore its authenticity.
One of these came to light as recently as 1971 when a young girl claims she was actually attacked by “something” in the lane outside the cemetery. She was returning home in the early hours of one morning when she was suddenly thrown to the ground with tremendous force by a “tall black figure with a deathly white face.” At that moment a car stopped to help her and the figure “vanished” in the glare of the headlamps.
She was taken to the police station in a state of shock, luckily only suffering abrasions to her arms and legs. The police immediately made a thorough search of the area , but could offer no explanation to the incident. More mysterious still was the fact that where the figure “vanished”, the road was lined by 12ft walls.
Another interesting case is that of the man who was “hypnotised” by “something” in the cemetery. He had gone into the cemetery one evening to “look around,” and as the light began to rapidly fade he decided to leave, but became hopelessly lost. Not being a superstitious person he walked calmly around looking for the gate when suddenly he became aware of something behind him. Swinging around he became “hypnotised with fear” at the tall dark spectre which was confronting him. So great was the intensity of his fear that he stood motionless for several minutes after the spectre had vanished. He later recalled that it was almost as if he had been paralysed with fear by some force.
There have been many reports such as this all describing “the tall black figure with a death-like countenance.” Unfortunately, these are too numerous to describe in detail, but I myself, having witnessed the phenomena, have no doubts as to their authenticity.
However, it is not only the possible existence of the vampire which has caused such controversy lately. Satanic worshipping and desecration are increasing at an alarming rate. Graves are violated and remains are used as emblems in black magic ceremonies.
Recently the charred body of a woman was found headless impaled by a stake. It had been used in such a ceremony. The fact that it was found by two schoolgirls makes the incident even more gruesome.
In a part of the cemetery – which I am not prepared to disclose – Satanic Masses regularly take place and have been observed by myself and other members of the British Occult Society. The people concerned are not youngsters “out for kicks”, but genuine Satanists who take part in bizarre rites, and include sexual practice as part of their worship. It would be wrong to mistake their rite for harmless orgies. They are, on the contrary, using this tremendous sexual power – generated by many people – to direct and help them in the practice of their magic.
Although the motive is not clear, their main aim seems to be invoking certain spirits to establish contact with the devil. There is also some likelihood of their being responsible for – or having some connection with – the frequent sighting of the vampire. Unfortunately, lack of evidence prevents me from commenting further on this at present.
Being an occultist, it is only my job to present the facts as we have found them, and not to bias people with my own personal opinions.
I think at this stage however, I should make some comment regarding my own position in the occult. As I have been the subject of much publicity lately, I, together with my associates have come to be regarded as “mysterious”. The “Sunday People’s” recent reference to me as a “white witch” and “vampire hunter” has only served to increase this “aura of mystery” which surrounds us, and subsequently we are made scape-goats for any unexplained occurrences in the district.
It is true that I am the founder of a magical society, and our activities do involve our going to Highgate cemetery, but we are in no way connected with the black magic which is practised there. Our Society is well-versed in many forms of white magic – including Kabbalistic – but we (and indeed all the witches I know) would never break our code and use this for an evil purpose. the rites and ceremonies, however, must remain a secret as they have done through the ages – for to betray these secrets would be to violate a sacred oath.
I am constantly having to protect our beliefs and justify our actions in to disbelieving authorities. In the midst of such scepticism it is hardly surprising that the public in its ignorance has come to regard us with suspicion.
Our investigations, however, will continue. The vampire has become sensational, and the more sensational it is, the more difficult it becomes to differentiate between actual happening, the possibility of there being a logical explanation or hoaxing. The Loch Ness Monster can be taken as a typical example of this.
It really is impossible to draw a line between relevant aspects, and what is just sheer fantasy. One thing is certain, however, there have been so man sightings and authentic reports (which cannot all be dismissed as wishful thinking), that there must lurk an element of truth. It is for this that we search.
(c) copyright David Farrant.