Capers among the Catecombs

 

[dropcap_1]T[/dropcap_1]his article from 1974 covering my Trial for ‘witchcraft’ at the Old Bailey in June of that year, perhaps demonstrates the atmosphere that permeated the entire Trial, throughout which beligerant police officers were making erroneous claims about the Nature religion of Wicca and stating that this really involved ‘nude orgies’, devil worship’ Satanism and black magic.
Such statements which were written by the police themselves (and accordingly not signed by myself), were produced as part of the Crown’s prosecution and, being thus introduced in evidence, gave newspapers a ‘free licence’ to reproduce them whilst being immune from the laws of libel.
PLEASE READ ON . . .

“CAPERS AMONG THE CATACOMBS

By Tom Davies

Outside the crowded Old Bailey court a young girl sits fingering a wooden cross.  Inside the court soft voices are talking of necromancy and vampires and werewolves.

            Above, in the public gallery, some members of the public are leaning forward with jaws hanging slightly as details of stakes being driven through coffins are unfolded to a hushed court.

            In the dock the accused, David Farrant, looks wan and Byronic.  He wears a black coat with sleeves too small for him, highlighting his large hands and long fingers, which he occasionally rakes though his tangled sandy hair.

            The atmosphere is unreal and almost medieval; you sense something of what might have happened hundreds of years back.  A police inspector says that one of the witnesses was in fear of the accused.  ‘When I went to see the witness,’ the inspector says, ‘he had salt around the windows of the room, salt around the doorway, and a large wooden cross under his pillow.’

            Two girls in the public gallery look at each other: eyes wide in mock horror.  Another’s hand rises towards her throat.  Later the accused is talking about his Wicca religion and the different rites on the calendar.

            He has been talking of necromantic rites and how, when he was trying to raise the ghost of a pirate in a cemetery on Hallowe’en night, all he raised was the police who arrested him on the stroke of midnight.  ‘Necromancy is the art of raising spirits,’ he explains when, a little later, a fierce buzzing comes out of the court microphone.

            ‘Can we switch it off, please?’ asks Judge Michael Argyle.  ‘Some evil spirit has apparently got at it.’  After much fumbling the interference persists and the judge calls for an adjournment while the trouble is sorted out.  It might be the first time an evil spirit has caused an adjournment at a trial at the Old Bailey.

            At the epicenter of the case is Highgate cemetery, that walled romantic rubble in North London where Karl Marx is buried, among its funereal Victorian extravaganzas.  The court has heard that stakes have been driven through the hearts of bodies there; 24 vaults have been interfered with and signs on the floors of the vaults indicated that necromantic ceremonies had taken place.

            Over the past years neighbours report that, on some nights, they have heard cackling in the dark.  Nude girls were said to be dancing around the coffins from which bodies had been removed and in which they had lain undisturbed for more than 100 years.  Rather than upset family relatives or risk the spread of contagious disease, the cemetery staff had quietly put the remains back.

            But the matter came out when, on 11 January, an architect returned to his car near the cemetery and found a headless corpse propped against his steering wheel.

            After a police investigation, David Farrant, of Archway Road, Islington, the president of the British Occult Society, is facing charges of damaging a memorial to the dead on consecrated ground and damaging property, and three further charges of breaking open and entering catacombs in consecrated ground and interfering with and offering indignity to the remains of a body ‘to the great scandal and disgrace or religion, decency and morality.’

            Farrant denies all five charges and, although he admits that he frequented the cemetery in search of vampires and other phenomena, says that dead bodies play no part in his religion and the blame for the desecration of the vaults lies with ‘the extremist Satanic cults.’

            Farrant dismissed his counsel and is conducting his own defence.   Occasionally he has an aside to explain the true symbolism of a broomstick or describe a hunt for a were wolf or the difference between white and black magic, though his visits to the cemetery, he says, were for the purpose of exorcism, not for interfering with the dead.  ‘My society does no harm.’

In a low voice he says to the jury:  “Since the birth of Christ we have been persecuted for our beliefs.  Christianity suppressed witchcraft.  Persecution came to a head in the sixteenth century.  Thousands were tortured for what they believed in.  When the crops failed and people were ill, what could it be but the work of the witches?  We believe persecution goes on.”

            Occasionally Judge Argyle advises Farrant on a point of law.  At one stage he insisted that a long lecture on necromancy was inappropriate to the charges.  Only occasionally does he allow himself a little jokey comment.  When nude dancing in the cemetery was being discussed,  he lowered his head and peered over his half-moon spectacles saying ‘I must point out that on the 31st of October it wouldn’t be terribly warm.

             The trial continues tomorrow.

[The Observer June 16th 1974]

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