AN INTERVIEW WITH SEAN MANCHESTER
There are many dimensions to Seán Manchester: author, artist, descendant of Lord Byron, exorcist, demonologist, Bishop and, most notably, Britain’s most renowned vampire slayer. The latter, rather sensational, facet of his persona stems from his famed chronicle of a vampire that terrorised the area in and around London’s Highgate Cemetery for hundreds of years. Manchester’s account is riveting and includes his initial attempt at exorcising the demon, as well as his extermination of the creature years later.
Although Manchester spent much of his life in London, he now splits his time between Glastonbury and the south coast. Needless to say, he has led a fascinating life, highlighted by his first-hand account of the Highgate mystery, a story he detailed in his 1985 bestselling book, the appropriately titled, ‘The Highgate Vampire’; a book that remains compulsory reading to this day.
‘The Highgate Vampire’ – Manchester’s epic tale of vampirism – was followed by several other interesting and related works, including ‘From Satan to Christ’ (1988), ‘Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know: The Life of Lady Caroline Lamb’ (1992), ‘The Grail Church’ (1995), ‘The Vampire Hunter’s Handbook’ (1997) and ‘Carmel: A Vampire Tale’ (2000). His body of work is provocative, especially for a priest, and has contributed to his prominence as a media figure of considerable notoriety, particularly during the 1970’s and early 1980’s, when vampire fever was at its zenith.
Manchester’s adventure began in the late 1960’s, when he first warned of the danger of the cults of Satanism, many of which were said to have performed their rituals in Highgate Cemetery, and now, some 40 years later, he remains a prolific, yet controversial, figure. His life’s work has pressed the boundaries of faith and, not surprisingly, one of his favourite quotes reflects this conviction: John 20:29, “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”
I am pleased to welcome the Right Reverend Seán Manchester, Bishop of Glastonbury and one of the most enduring figures in the study of vampirism, demonology and exorcism, to 17 Questions.
1. Seán, do the undead walk in Highgate Cemetery today?
That particular contagion was successfully exorcised in early 1974. There has been no further contamination at Highgate Cemetery.
2. At what moment did you become convinced in the existence of the undead, in vampires?
When I opened the suspect tomb in August 1970 and viewed, for the first time, the corporeal form within the casket, surplus to those listed on the mausoleum’s exterior.
3. Are the undead inherently evil or are they unwilling victims, or pawns, of a greater entity?
They are always inherently evil. The spiritual agency is demonic, predatory and biocidal.
4. What, in your estimation, is the source of the undead’s condition? Was there an original vampire? What tradition do they represent? Is it related to other traditions?
They belong to demonry. Their tradition is that of predatory wraiths, who drain the life force. There is nothing to separate them from other demons, besides their predilection for blood and manifestation in corporeal form.
5. Looking back over the Highgate Vampire years, what would you do differently if you could do it all again?
I might have applied the ancient and approved remedy sooner than I did. Yet, to have done so would have been in breach of the law. So, probably not.
6. Can you describe the emotions you felt as you exorcised Lusia, the young woman who led you to the vampire and ultimately fell victim to its attack?
When engaged in exorcism of any sort one is obliged to prepare in such a way as to exclude all emotion. One has to be mentally and emotionally detached from the act itself in order to be successful in removing (or casting out) the demonic presence.
7. Clearly, your dedication to the protection of your community, and greater London, has been considerable. Who will carry the torch after you’ve gone?
My primatial jurisdiction is Great Britain, not just London. Individuals are called to this ministry and it will be whoever has such a calling. I trust there will always be such people.
8. What advice do you have to anyone setting out to hunt and destroy the undead today?
Leave it to those who are proficient in the ministry of exorcism and contact a traditional priest. If you have a calling to become an exorcist, you first need to be trained and become seasoned before embarking on anything as dangerous as the Highgate case.
9. Have you been bitten or otherwise infected by the undead?
As recorded on page 176 of The Highgate Vampire (Gothic Press edition), my left palm was infected by the wraith. Salt and Holy Water were applied instantly to cauterise the wound.
10. Which one picture or piece of evidence would you present in a court of law, if required, to prove the existence of the undead?
The images on page 144 of The Highgate Vampire (Gothic Press edition).
(Arcadia regrets that it cannot share this image due to copyright restrictions, but can confirm that it is both provocative and disturbing.)
11. Given the media coverage you have received over the years, why do you feel the notion vampires in our world today has not been more widely accepted?
The acceptance of the supernatural (in the real meaning of that word) has waned considerably in our secular society, which largely rejects the spiritual reality it once embraced for millennia. Those in thrall to materialism and consumerism feel that science answers all their needs and that we are now too advanced to seriously heed any of the old, instinctive fears that preserved us through centuries past. They are wrong, as some discover to their cost. The grip and strength of those seemingly "superstitious" instincts are founded in the very nature of things and are rooted at the beginning of time. To suddenly dismiss what the unconscious mind has stored for centuries because it is no longer fashionable in a cynical world, is dangerous indeed.
Very well put. And how arrogant of us to assume we know better, that we are more rational – that we are more rooted in reality.
12. What position has the Catholic Church taken, both publicly and privately, with respect to your work?
The Catholic Church has always accepted the existence of such things and the need to deal with them by way of exorcism. I would only refer today, however, to the traditional wing of the Catholic Church in this respect and not the modernist, liberal elements who struggle to believe in the supernatural and question the very essence of Holy Scripture.
13. Your 1995 book, The Grail Church, deals with a different but similarly ancient phenomenon. Can you summarise what the Grail Church is and does it exist today? Why is it important?
The Grail Church is a pure branch of Christianity that existed in the British Isles soon after the Passion. It became lost and many centuries later was recovered. My book examines this death and resurrection, which is especially important in these spiritually bankrupt times.
14. What is the Holy Grail?
The Holy Grail is the Sacred Cup of the Last Supper. It symbolises ultimate union with God.
15. What can you share about the Highgate Mystery, or yourself, that you have never shared before?
Everything that needs to be told about the Highgate case has been told. I am a very private person, albeit a public figure, who is nonetheless an open book. There is nothing to share as far as my public life is concerned. My private life remains private.
Makes sense. I understand.
16. Tell us about your role in the upcoming film, ‘The Highgate Vampire’ and what are your expectations for its portrayal of what really happened?
The Highgate Vampire film (not to be confused with something being produced by Asa Bailey, which bears no resemblance to anything I have written, or indeed the actual case, and is a transparent exploitation of my book’s title to generate interest) is a project based on my book which is still in its early stages. I, therefore, cannot comment for contractual reasons.
17. Is your work with the undead done, or is there more to do?
The exorcism ministry will always be needed. There is always more to do.
Best of luck Seán. Be well.