AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID FARRANT
David Farrant is an author, researcher and psychic investigator of considerable renown. His credentials include founder and President of the British Psychic and Occult Society (B.P.O.S.), as well as founder of the Highgate Vampire Society (H.V.S.), an organisation that investigates the tall, black figure that is believed to have haunted the area in and around Highgate Cemetery (in North London) for hundreds of years; an entity that some believe to be a murderous vampire.
Over the course of his career David has been a magnet, and at times a target, for media attention. His work has been controversial, yet often misunderstood, and for that he has paid a heavy price. In Volume 1 of his autobiographical book, ‘In The Shadow of the Highgate Vampire’, David recounts the events that led to his involvement in the Highgate Vampire mystery, and which have contributed to his fascinating world view.
In addition to his autobiography, David is the author of several other fascinating books, including:
Today, David lives in Highgate, not far from where he grew up and first encountered the mystery that would change his life and, to some degree, overshadow his other accomplishments for decades to come. In this provocative interview David discusses all aspects of his career and, in the process, provides the perfect accompaniment for his new book.
David, welcome to 17 Questions!
Thank you, it’s a pleasure to meet you and to be interviewed.
The pleasure is mutual David. Let’s begin.
1) David, do vampires really exist and, if so, did one terrorise London’s Highgate Cemetery?
The first thing I will say to you is that I do not believe in blood-sucking vampires, at least of the Hammer Horror Film variety.. By that I mean vampires with fangs who sleep in coffins by day, who drink blood by night and can only be destroyed by being staked through the heart. I think that is pure and utter fiction. No, I do not accept the existence of blood-sucking vampires.
2) What do you make of Bram Stoker’s comment in his seminal book, ‘Dracula’, that a vampire-like figure was known to exist near Highgate, in North London?
If I remember correctly, Stoker was referring to a churchyard in the vicinity of Hampstead (North London) that is widely believed to be Highgate, a cemetery that contains many Victorian vaults and coffins appropriate for vampires to sleep in, should one believe in these things.
3) So, tell me about the ‘entity’ you witnessed in Highgate Cemetery. Where and when did this occur, and what exactly did you see?
I saw something pretty incredible by the North Gate of the Highgate Cemetery, back in December of 1969. You see, in the late 60’s there were quite a few reports from local residents, completely unknown to each other, about a tall figure draped in black with red eyes that had been seen in and around the cemetery. That’s what got my interest. I was born in nearby Highgate, you see, and was a local guy with the whole thing on my doorstep, so to speak.
And so I went to Highgate Cemetery looking for a logical explanation; perhaps the sighting had been of an animal that had somehow become distorted in somebody’s mind, such as a fox, for there are many such animals in the area. I even thought it could have been a large tree branch blown by the wind, swaying in the moonlight. So again, back then, all reports featured a tall, dark figure with red eyes and so the local legend quickly evolved that it was a vampire.
Anyway, as I approached the North Gate I became aware of a very tall figure. Initially, I thought it was someone who had heard about the story and was out to scare the odd passer-by. That was my first reaction. However, as I walked by, the air turned bitterly cold and icy. My vivid recollection is that the figure did appear to have two eyes, but no other discernable features; just two points of light that appeared to be eyes. Whatever it was, I am sure it was of a psychic nature. I say this with some certainty, for it was draining me of energy. It was real. It was actually happening. I remember mentally reciting an incantation for protection, as I felt I was being hypnotised. Then, all of sudden, it just was not there any more.
It was there one minute and gone the next?
Yes! As if you were watching a TV picture and someone had turned off the television. And then it became warm again. That was the first time I experienced the Highgate Vampire.
Did you ever see it again?
Not as vividly as that, although I believe one local newspaper erroneously reported that I’d seen this figure ‘on three occasions’. What happened was, I wrote a general letter to this newspaper asking for information from any readers who may have seen this ghostly figure that had been reported on at least three occasions (although I carefully avoided using the word ‘vampire’ to avoid scaremongering among local residents). We had B.P.O.S. members stationed in Highgate Cemetery at night at this time, however, trying to obtain some photographic evidence. One of these claimed to have seen a ‘stationary black figure’ but when he attempted to photograph it, it promptly vanished.
4) Do Satanists still practise at Highgate Cemetery?
At that particular time, in the late 1960’s, there was a group of professional Satanists using Highgate Cemetery. One of our B.P.O.S. members came across a secluded mausoleum with stained glass windows and a huge marble altar, and there, inscribed on the floor, were black-magic Satanic symbols. The centrepiece was a triangle with an inverted pentagram inside, and I hardly need to tell you that an inverted pentagram is a sign of negative pursuits. At each point were symbols of astrological signs, including the Black Moon and the planets Saturn and Mars; a pretty lethal combination.
5) Were the symbols left by the Satanists enough for you to ascertain which ‘entity’ they had attempted to conjure?
No. But what they had done was move a huge marble bust on the floor, near the apex of the triangle. What I could be sure of was that it was a necromancy ritual, designed to communicate with the person buried there.
So, I took photographs of the Satanic damage and, before long, I was telephoned by the Editor of Highgate’s ‘Ham & High’ newspaper, and I said, “I think I have some evidence that Highgate Cemetery is being used by Satanists”, and he asked me to take the photos into his office, which I did. A story was soon featured in the newspaper and, needless to say, the Satanists did not take too kindly to the coverage. Before long I started to receive letters from them, some of which I reproduced in my book, that said I would be condemned by the great Lord Hadit unless I stopped bringing their activities to the public view. The letters were authentic; in fact, they were signed in blood and adorned with Satanic signs. One of them read: “By your interference with our work of our High Order, you have invoked the wrath of Lord Hadit. By His element and the power of the 7 Fold Cross, you shall now be destroyed. This is decreed by His Grace and this wish will be fulfilled through our Order. Be it thus so”. Nevertheless, we were secure in our ability to protect ourselves, and eventually they stopped using Highgate Cemetery for their rituals altogether.
6) Did the Satanists succeed in materialising an entity before they stopped performing their rituals in Highgate Cemetery?
I point out in my book, ‘In the Shadow of the Highgate Vampire’, that if they were successful, the entity could have remained earthbound. In effect, it would have been trapped on the earthly plane. It was very possible that the Satanists could have been responsible for the existence of the tall, dark figure that I, and so many others, have seen.
I am intrigued by this possibility. How long would the Satanists have had to have been active at Highgate for this theory to be true? Don’t the legends go back hundreds of years?
Well, we checked out the cemetery and its history, and the reports of the haunting go right back to Victorian times. A common sighting was of a tall man dressed in black, who used to disappear through cemetery walls. Psychic activity can become dormant and then be triggered by certain conditions, such as building work. Psychic energy can harbour in the stone work of a building, for instance. Structural interference can release psychic energy. And, interestingly enough, after the Highgate Vampire was reported in the 1970’s, it went dormant for a long while, before resurfacing only recently, in conjunction with some building work near the cemetery.
Well, in 2005 I had two reports of people who had seen a tall, dark figure in Swains Lane; independent reports. Others reported that they felt a strange sort of atmosphere there; a sense of timelessness.
How interesting – 2005 – that recent? Was there an attempt to validate the character of the witnesses?
Yes, and they were ordinary people. One lady was driving up Swains Lane and said she saw a large tree branch against the wall in the distance. As she got closer she noticed that it had red eyes and that it was not a tree or branch at all, but a figure. And when she looked back it had just disappeared.
I was also approached in 2006, even more recently, by a man who lived on the estate that backs onto the cemetery and had been out in Highgate Village and was walking down Swains Lane when, off in the distance – right outside the main gate – he saw a figure standing motionless. It remained motionless as he approached and thus he did not think it was anything supernatural, until he passed it, and then heard a voice whisper in his ear, “Good evening, sir”, and it unnerved him. He then noticed that the figure was dressed in black and, when he looked back, it had started to glide across the road before disappearing through the stone wall gate that borders Highgate Cemetery.
I went on a tour of the cemetery just recently and learned that some heavy-duty building work had been finished on a house that backs onto the cemetery, which made me more inclined to believe that heavy building work can ignite a haunting. That is what made me think that these things go in cycles, and that it has become active again.
7) Recount for us your intention behind the ritual you attempted to perform in Highgate Cemetery; the one the police raided. If it had been successful, what would it have achieved?
I went to Highgate Cemetery in August 1970 with four others, including a psychic medium. We had certain implements with us, including incense and candles, so that we could light a small fire and try and call the entity back to the earthly plane. That was our intention. We wanted to find out what it was, and what its motive was. But that ritual never took place, of course, as it was interrupted by the police, who had been keeping watch on the cemetery, and all activities within it, for some time.
On the night I had brought along a portable tape recorder and a small camera. I also took a stake, attached to a piece of white cord, with engraved magical symbols. And this is the important point, and one that has been greatly misunderstood. You see, the idea was to push the stake into the ground and create a perfect circle, for the ritual. Well, we soon saw lights coming from over the back wall. The police had arrived, and they promptly arrested me, and asked me to name the others, but I refused. I also refused to give them my address in Highgate or to name the other people concerned, so they held me in custody overnight to be taken to Court the next day. Now the police knew all the stories about the vampire and, as a result, they were quite sarcastic after I had been arrested on that fateful night. When that case came to Court it caused a small sensation, as the police claimed in Court that I intended to open coffins and ‘stake’ the reputed vampire that was believed to inhabit Highgate Cemetery. In fact, I never made such a statement and thus I was acquitted. But, the fact that this allegation was made (by the police) in open Court, and picked up by the Press, was sufficient to get me branded as a ‘vampire hunter’, when, in reality, I was just a psychic investigator. In any case, the police weren’t very pleased about my acquittal!
I was arrested again two years later at Hallowe’en in 1972 – this time for trying to communicate with the ghost of a 17th-century pirate buried in Monken Hadley Churchyard in North London. Hallowe’en was chosen simply because it was the date this spirit had been reputed to appear. I explained at Barnet Magistrates’ Court that this was part of a serious psychic investigation and we had not intended to ‘indecently’ damage Church property, as the prosecution were claiming. But I admitted to painting a ‘magical circle on the ground’ by the pirate’s grave, which was said to amount to ‘indecency’. And so we (there were two of us) were each fined ₤10, which was quite a lot of money in those days.
We were arrested again in 1973, while conducting a ritual in a house in Crouch End that had been burnt out by fire. I was performing a series of rituals that night, trying to conjure the nature god, Pan (please note – Pan, the nature god – not devil). We used a biscuit tin to make a small fire for heat and light, and there was an old people’s home opposite the house. I am not sure if they saw the flickering lights, or if the police had been tipped off, but all of a sudden there was a stampede coming up the stairs and the police burst in and charged me with arson.
8) Of all the tenuous things that you were accused of – accusations of which you were later acquitted – sending voodoo dolls to the police appears to be your only ‘true’ crime? What was your thinking behind that?
Well, I was taken to the Old Bailey for that fire in the house, and later acquitted, as I just recounted. This was the third time that I had escaped police prosecution. Then, in 1974, they threw the book at me with five accounts related to events in Highgate Cemetery; none of which I was guilty of. One very famous charge was for putting a 150-year-old corpse in a car, minus its head. Clearly, it was a joke, but luckily the only evidence was a statement dreamt up by the police – something that I was supposed to have said that amounted to a ‘confession’. A jury agreed that I had been wronged and I was acquitted on the three major charges (including the ‘skeleton in the car’ one) and found guilty of only two minor charges; things that had only been introduced at the last minute, such as the Satanist drawings, which I photographed, but never created, and damage to a coffin. Yet, I was given six months for the ‘Satanic markings’ offence and two years for the offence of ‘damage’. And then there was the matter of the voodoo dolls. It’s true that I sent them to police officers.
Did you send them to specific officers?
Yes, I sent them by recorded delivery. They signed for them. I sent one to each police officer with a note saying, ‘Those who harm the initiated will become a victim of their own intentions. Your evil will be returned to you before another month is through. In Truth, David Farrant.’
So what happened next?
Well, I was later arrested for this offence and charged with threatening the police. The case was heard after the Highgate Cemetery Old Bailey case in 1974. Result? I was sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment.
David, I am so sorry. Listen, changing the subject just a bit…
9) What role does sex have in ritual? Those who have read your book, ‘In the Shadow of the Highgate Vampire’, will understand a little about this. But for those who may be unaware of this element, I would like to ask you to elaborate.
The question about what significance sex has – or the part it plays – in some magical rituals is indeed a profound one, and perhaps made even more difficult to answer because it can invite misinterpretation – not least by some ‘scandal hungry’ newspapers (or some other bigoted people), who see any groups or individuals who may employ its use, of indulging in ‘mass orgies’. Indeed, this has happened to myself; although I have usually only been clarifying – or trying to clarify – what is not involved in sexual magical practices.
But, you have asked specifically about the actual use of sex in rituals, not the potential sensationalism that, perhaps inevitably, surrounds the subject.
Let me put it this way: in magic, sex is seen as an essential force, which, if utilized correctly, can connect to, and subsequently ‘release’, deeper levels of consciousness which are not normally ‘active’ – or used – in the course of everyday existence. Being the essential life force (not just in human beings, but in the whole of Nature), the sex act is responsible for our very existence, and a practitioner recognises this fact and endeavours to ‘channel’ the energy released.
Put another way, there is potentially significant power released during the sex act itself; though, ironically, this is usually ‘wasted’ when only used for pleasure, which it is most of the time. I am not condemning this, but would say that in ritual sex is used for its intrinsic – and mostly unrecognised – value.
10) May I ask what organisations you chair or belong to today?
I left Wicca in 1982, actually. I had been involved in it a long time and had three initiations by a very advanced lady who died in 1997. She lived in Barnet. In 1982, some sort of change came over me. I just thought Wicca had taught me all it could, but I wanted to explore the mystical side of it. Wicca is still governed by rituals and traditions and symbolism. And I really felt that I no longer needed the symbolism. The truth is, I kept an altar until about a year ago, but for the benefit of people who visited me. The symbols focused their mind, but I no longer needed them.
11) In hindsight, were there any rituals or ceremonies that you performed, where you achieved more than you expected, or had gone too far?
No, I don’t think so, because every single ritual, even the experimental ones, were properly protected by symbolism and I was always aware of exactly what I was doing.
So you were always under control?
Yes. People never came under threat.
12) What role did the Press, and certain attention seekers, actually play in the Highgate Vampire mystery and in your own fate relative to it?
The Press loved it and constantly stirred things up. As a result, quite a few people tried to cash in on the Highgate entity case. For instance, one man came forward and he was on the front page of the ‘Hampstead and Highgate Express’ newspaper. He claimed he was making an amateur film, called ‘Vampires at Night’, with the ‘Hellfire Cine Club’ and that this had caused the sightings. There were many others out in search of the ‘vampire’. For example, two other ‘would-be vampire hunters’ went to Highgate Cemetery armed with crosses and stakes, claiming that they were following my example. They were arrested and taken to court, where one of the magistrates was named Christopher Lea, funnily enough; but they were acquitted. But loads of others came forward and presented their theories, each more ridiculous than the other.
13) So, the whole Hammer Horror films connection needs to be discussed, because many of their early ‘vampire’ films were actually set, in part, in Highgate Cemetery. And this pre-dates the late 1960’s vampire sighting frenzy. To what degree did these films contribute to the vampire sightings that followed or, in other words, which is the chicken and which is the egg?
It’s funny you should say that it’s a chicken and egg situation. I know what you mean. I really do. A lot of people were influenced by those Hammer Horror films, but some went from the sublime to the ridiculous.
14) What other Highgate Vampire related incidents come to mind that may have been influenced by the Hammer Horror films?
Well, there is one very famous one. Did you know that one person actually claimed to have tracked down the Highgate Vampire to a particular vault in Highgate Cemetery and later claimed to have ‘staked it’ in a deserted neo-Gothic mansion in North London and that he also wrote that he’d also staked this ‘vampire’s’ disciple after she’d turned into a ‘giant spider’?
Let’s not go there!
15) So, what are vampires then?
OK, fair point; just thought I’d mention it! So what are vampires?
Good question. Right, so I will tell you how the vampire legend was born. I assume most people have heard of the legend of the incubus and succubus?
Why yes, I believe most have.
Well, what is interesting is that they are said to visit people in their sleep, and the symptoms exhibited by these people – these victims, as it were – are invariably the same as those of vampire victims. People wake up for no apparent reason and are paralysed, and often report a pressure, as if someone is kneeling on their chest. I had a German girl visit me in 2001, and she was in quite a state. She had visitations at night and, like many victims, appeared to lose her appetite and, in this instance, the girl was anaemic and required iron pills from a doctor. Still others develop an aversion to bright lights and start sleepwalking; all characteristics of vampire victims. Furthermore, a lot of these people actually report a sexual element to the visitation. Sexual communication between the visiting entity and the person is very common.
So, Bram Stoker would have been aware of these legends and it is very possible that he could have based the legend of Dracula on the legend of the incubus and succubus.
16) We are back to the chicken and the egg again. Where do the legends of incubus and succubus come from, then?
Yes, but that quotation might be truer than you think you know! You see, I have often answered this point in my writings that ‘what came first’ was the consciousness or ‘life force’ that created and then formed both of these. This is perhaps not so irrelevant if you think about it, because psychic energy (like the incubus and succubus that you have mentioned) could operate in a similar way. It is neither ‘formed’ nor reproduces itself in human terms. In fact, reports of these entities date back for centuries and are world-wide.
17) So, what’s next for David Farrant? What can you tell us about your next project?
My next major project (book-wise) is to finish the second volume of my autobiography, which is due out later next year. I am also involved in a full-length feature film on the Highgate Vampire case at the moment, which is due for release in 2010. You can imagine, it’s all a lot of work.
Additionally, I have the B.P.O.S. to run and accompanying psychic investigations to organise – although this is not so bad as work goes, as luckily I have other people to help me there. And then, of course, I have to worry about looking after myself. That in itself can be quite hard work sometimes; especially when I’m out filming or giving a talk and have no cooked dinner to come home to! It’s times like those that make me think seriously about getting married again!
Be careful what you ask for, David, as I bet many a lady will be ringing you up now!
Seriously, David, Arcadia would like to thank you for a superb interview. Thank you for your candour, insight and openness to discuss topics of such a personal nature. Best of luck in all your endeavours.
To find out more about David Farrant visit his web site: www.davidfarrant.org/