Tuesday, 27 February 2018

A Wampyr in Highgate





The banner headline "Does a wampyr walk in Highgate?" appeared across the front page of Hampstead and Highgate's most prestigious newspaper in February 1970. The editor himself had written the piece after meeting privately with the president of the British Occult Society and founder of the then fledgling Vampire Research Society. He allowed himself to get slightly carried away by introducing the journalistic embellishment "King Vampire of the Undead" - a term that Seán Manchester did not employ, as stated by him on page 72 of The Vampire Hunter's Handbook, but what else did the editor get wrong that day? Apparently more than you might imagine!

After warning that a vampire might be active in Highgate Cemetery, the article goes on to correctly describe Seán Manchester as a photographer (he had run his own photographic studio throughout the previous decade) and the president of the British Occult Society (a position he held from 21 June 1967 to 8 August 1988 when the BOS was dissolved). He is then quoted accurately enough before reference is made to a King Vampire of the Undead which is not attributed to him in actual quotes but attributed nonetheless.

A very important residence in Highgate somehow manages to transform into a different house in London's West End. For house "in the West End" one should actually substitute Ashurst House, which once stood at the western end of the site now occupied by Highgate Cemetery, as would have been explained by Seán Manchester who told the editor at the time that Ashurst House was sold and leased to a succession of tenants of whom one was a mysterious gentleman from the Continent who arrived in the wake of the vampire epidemic that had its origins in south-east Europe. This is not quite the same as what was reported and, of course, does not have anything like the same sensationalist impact as "King Vampire from Wallachia" which Draculesque adornment the newspaper clearly preferred.

There then follows reference to a group of Satanists attempting to"resurrect the King Vampire." This time the reference to a King Vampire is included in quotes even though the term was not uttered.

Next we are misinformed that the British Occult Society had "no formal membership" but instead corresponded with "50 to 100 interested people." Completely untrue. The BOS had a formal membership of over three hundred people with at least one hundred actively involved in ongoing research and investigation.

Then we learn that the British Occult Society "believes in countering magic by magic" when all that was said is that the supernatural will not submit to scientific methods to measure and prove its existence.

The newspaper correctly states that some BOS members had "spent nights in Highgate Cemetery" which was obviously for the purpose of observing the strange nocturnal goings-on in the place as had been reported by people in the previous decade and was still being reported up to the time of the article.

Readers are then offered in quotes "the traditional and approved manner" by which folk must rid themselves of this hideous pestilence without it being properly clarified that this is how clergy dealt with the problem in centuries past and was not on the agenda as far as the British Occult Society/Vampire Research Society was concerned with regard to Highgate Cemetery.

That Montague Summers' books bore some influence on Seán Manchester's understanding of vampirism is mentioned in tandem with the suggestion that Bram Stoker's novel is based on fact. That Stoker was influenced by genuine cases and read about real vampires before writing Dracula is not in doubt, but the clumsy journalism of the Hampstead and Highgate Express clouds what is trying to be conveyed by the man they are interviewing in the pursuit (presumably) of economising on words for the sake of space.

Finally, we come to a quote attributed to "one of Britain's busiest exorcists, the Rev John Neil-Smith" (they couldn't even get his name right - it was actually Christopher Neil-Smith) by attributing to him the following: "I believe the whole idea of vampires is probably a novelistic embellishment." He said nothing of the sort.

The Reverend Christopher Neil-Smith (1920-1995) was an Anglican priest, originally from Hampstead, most celebrated for his practice of exorcism and his paranormal interests.[1] Like Seán Manchester, whom he knew, Reverend Neil-Smith believed that evil is an external reality and should be treated as such rather than as an abstract concept.

A vicar at St Saviour's Anglican Church at Eton Road in Hampstead, London, he performed more than three thousand exorcisms in Britain since 1949. In 1972, the Bishop of London authorised him to exorcise demons according to his own judgement.[2] Two years earlier, he was misquoted in the Hampstead and Highgate Express, 27 February 1970, saying that vampires are "probably a novelistic embellishment," but, as Seán Manchester subsequently pointed out, Reverend Neil-Smith claimed to have actually exorcised vampires, as confirmed in a book written by Daniel Farson and Angus Hall which records:

"Yet not far from Highgate Cemetery lives a man who takes reports of vampirism seriously. The Reverend Christopher Neil-Smith is a leading British exorcist and writer on exorcism. He can cite several examples of people who have come to him for help in connection with vampirism. 'The one that particularly strikes me is that of a woman who showed me the marks on her wrists which appeared at night, where blood had definitely been taken. And there was no apparent reason why this should have occurred. They were marks like those of an animal. Something like scratching.' He denies this might have been done by the woman herself. She came to him when she felt her blood was being sucked away, and after he performed an exorcism the marks disappeared. Another person who came from South America 'had a similar phenomenon, as if an animal had sucked away his blood and attacked him at night.' Again, the Reverend Neil-Smith could find no obvious explanation. There is a third case of a man who, after his brother died, had the strange feeling that his lifeblood was being slowly sucked away from him. 'There seems to be evidence this was so,' says Neil-Smith. 'He was a perfectly normal person before, but after the brother's death he felt his life was being sucked away from him as if the spirit of his brother was feeding on him. When the exorcism was performed he felt a release and new life, as if new blood ran in his veins.' Neil-Smith rules out the possibility of a simple psychological explanation for this, such as a feeling of guilt by the survivor toward his brother. 'There was no disharmony between them. In fact he wasn't clear for some time that it (the vampire) was his brother.' The clergyman describes a vampire as 'half animal, half human,' and firmly refutes the suggestion that such things are all in the mind. 'I think that's a very naive interpretation,' he says. 'All the evidence points to the contrary'." [6]

The Reverend Christopher Neil-Smith, contrary to editor Gerald Isaaman's false attribution of 27 February 1970 in a local Hampstead newspaper, concluded that there really are such a things as vampires.

References:

1. a b Beeson, Trevor (2006). "The Reverend Christopher Neil-Smith". Priests And Prelates: The Daily Telegraph Clerical Obituaries. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0826481000.

2. Sands, Kathleen R. Demon possession in Elizabethan England. Praeger Publishers. "At around the same time, Father Christopher Neil-Smith, an Anglican priest, received a standing license from the Bishop of London authorizing him to exorcise freely according to his own judgment." 

3. Neil-Smith, Christopher. Praying for daylight: God through modern eyes. P. Smith.

4. Cramer, Marc. The devil within. W.H. Allen. "with the noted exorcist, the Rev. Christopher Neil-Smith, author of an anecdotal book entitled The Exorcist and the Possessed."

5. Spence, Lewis. Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology.Kessinger Publishing.

6. Mysterious Monsters (Aldus Books, 1978) by Daniel Farson and Angus Hall. 


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