An Interview With The Damned

Way back in July 2015, when I used to write under the nom de plume of Fox The Rebel, I was asked to take part in the Highgate Vampire Symposium as the resident expert on both necromancy and tulpa creation. During the preparations for the event, Della Farrant, one of the principal organisers, decided to conduct an interview with me to explore my ongoing interest in the subject. The following back and forth should prove very enlightening for those who are either intrigued by that most divisive of urban legends, or the wider ideas associated with approaching death in the digital age.

Sunburnt, exhausted and with a severely compromised immune system eating me away from within, I gladly travelled back to London to aid the creation a free and open forum for ideas relating to this most urban of myths. My presence brought a darkly mystical tone to the otherwise Fortean and folkloric proceedings, perhaps more so considering just how unwell I actually was at the time. All in all, the event was an interesting, if oddly unnerving experience for a writer who greatly prefers being behind the keyboard to sitting in front of a paying audience, and not something that I would like to repeat again any time soon.

As expected, certain people seemed to take a great deal of offence at my presence at the event, not least those who still have an axe to grind with relation to the finer points of the case, but I remain proud that I was able to participate in a small slice of Fortean history. I set out to make people question the nature of what is drifting around the cemetery after dark, and in the end I think I succeeded. My time spent with the Farrants was enlightening, and I maintain the deepest respect for them and their position as guardians of the seam of folklore that is sadly sensationalised to this day.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Della Farrant: Hello Fox! And thank you for agreeing to speak at the Symposium – you are very brave to agree to be nominated as the conference’s ‘resident necromancer’! Let’s hope that via some awful inversion you don’t end up in a wicker man when you venture into the heart of Highgate Village on the big day! You have been making quite a name for yourself on the internet recently. One thing that stands out about your occult writings is your openness, along of course with your refusal to be pigeon-holed.

Fox The Rebel: Evening Della, and thanks for the invite. I’m not all that worried by the idea of being the only necromancer in the room if I’m honest. One on one people tend to be pretty tolerant of anything, it’s only when we have to deal with dogma induced group think that the torches seem to get lit and the villagers gather together to burn the heretic out of his castle. One of my ongoing aims as a blogger is to try and educate the masses as to what the occult arts actually entail; for too long we have been put in a position whereby the bizarre and hateful input of a few overzealous witch hunters with a god given axe to grind coloured the general perception of everyone else as to what we do and why. Way I see it, I get one life, might as well do something with it before I return to the soil. If I can stick two fingers up at those who continue to hold said beliefs at the same time, then even better.

Della Farrant: And that leads me onto my first question. Although you dislike being categorised in terms of belief systems, you describe yourself as a chaos magickian. Can you explain for readers for whom chaos magick may be a new concept just what it entails, and how it differs from organised religious or spiritual traditions?

Fox The Rebel: Now that’s a question. Chaos magick is at it’s heart a rejection of the neoclassical thinking that has overtaken much of the modern occult movement, their reliance on reconstituting some completely non-existent ancient spiritual system from the ersatz writings of tortured old women and dusty late medieval scribes touting quickly constructed grimoires to whichever greedy noble would be stupid enough to pay the cover price. The chaos magickian views all supposed truths as equally flimsy constructs of an inherently insane human nature, and embraces his position within that flux without drawing any distinction between the real and unreal. Self reliance is the key to not only surviving but thriving within this particular system, as the ability to pick over the carcasses of all of the other schools of magick, not to mention those equally fictional systems presented in novels, films and video games, can leave the weaker minded overwhelmed. Chaos magick is in many ways skeptical magick, atheistic at its core but also willing to embrace the ideas held by others, albeit for a little while until they are inevitably discarded again in favour of something else. It is more a state of mind than a spirituality, a tool set for embracing the ego and surviving our shared reality than a system of prayer and penance. And I love every minute of it.

Della Farrant: How old were you when you first realised that you saw the world around you differently from the mainstream, and were destined to journey down a magickal path? And what influences helped you as you made the difficult (for some) choice to become a freethinker?

Fox The Rebel: Honestly, I’ve always been the odd one out. If I had been born a couple of years sooner I most likely would have been the goth kid at the back of my maths class reading Lovecraft instead of doing the sums, but as a teenager in the nineties and not the eighties I was more grunge, albeit just as disinterested in whatever my teachers said about how the world was supposed to work. I gave up on the consensus reality way back then, and began reading anything that I could get my hands on relating to what I would later find out were Fortean subjects in an effort to find something to explain my increasingly weird life while drifting from one boring socially imposed rite of passage to another. Putting that learning into practical use came much later though, when I was in my mid twenties, but once I declared myself as a chaos magickian the universe never gave me a chance to regret it. I’ve been out of that metaphysical closet for a few years now in my general day to day life, and through that met many other occultists from a myriad of disciplines who have not come out to the same degree as myself and would have continued to walk right along side me in silence if I had not raised the subject in passing. You would be surprised just how many of us there are out there, albeit practising in secret.

Della Farrant: You have chosen to publish your occult writings under the name Fox the Rebel. Could you tell us a little more about the symbolism underlying this choice of nomenclature?

Fox The Rebel: Well foxes are exceptional creatures, are they not? Scavengers at the fringes of human civilisation, trickster spirits in certain mythologies and not something you want to mess with when cornered in a fair fight. After realising early on that my views made me akin to the proverbial fox in the hen house, not only within the modern occult community but also in the eyes of the greater public, I decided that that a nom de guerre was in order when fighting my corner against everyone else. Plus the European red fox, the vulpes vulpes, has always held a powerful and primally totemic personal identification for me as well, which made the choice kind of obvious. As for the Rebel bit, anyone who has ever read my blog can probably work that one out for themselves.

Della Farrant: The Symposium is not your first foray into the world of Highgate high strangeness. You have previously blogged about the case in quite some detail. What about Highgate first caught your attention?

Fox The Rebel: The Highgate Vampire is up there with Spring-Heel Jack and the beast of Berkeley Square as far as urban legends go, and is one of the first slices of local folklore that anyone with a Fortean interest growing up in London inevitably comes across. Of course, the fact the there are people still living who have seen the creature, not to mention actual photographic evidence detailing the leftovers from the magical rituals performed in the area, makes it doubly important to the student of the weird. The very fact that so few people in the modern magickal community have taken an interest in the events there is a crying shame as it represents a slice of our collective history, not to mention a warning against being too vocal about alternative spiritual interests within a society that just does not wish to hear it. In some ways the social witch hunt which surrounded David Farrant’s arrest and imprisonment is more interesting than the creature itself, or the ensuing feuds and ill will among those who were there.

Della Farrant: Now onto the troublesome subject of necromancy. I myself was once accused of being a necromancer, after making passing public reference to possessing mediumistic abilities, an accusation which I found contextually ludicrous. You are brave enough to openly describe yourself as a necromancer, thus inviting insults from people who assume that this practice necessarily involves interfering with the remains of the dead. I know personally, and from reading your writings, that you don’t do that, or I would not have invited you to speak at the Symposium! So can you please explain to readers what necromancy means to you as part of your magickal workings.

Fox The Rebel: There is no shame in being identified as a necromancer, or walking the necromantic path. As with much within the realms of the weird, it is the ridiculous ideas held by those outside of a given paranormal sphere which causes the problems, not those striving to gather answers from within it. Indeed, the human preoccupation with spirit communication can be traced way back to antiquity, almost as long as the idea of the afterlife itself, and it is not the only task that necromancers undertake. We work with life forces in general, with that stored in our blood, with that upwelling from places of strong emotion and hollow decay. We shape and project this death energy, healing and harming as we see fit. Perhaps it is my background as a chaos magickian that allows me to cherry pick the bits of the death current that I am most comfortable with from a moral point of view, letting me skip over the parchment skin and bleached bone aspects that inevitably lead to the desecration of remains and a lengthy prison term. As for why I first took this path, while I have always been sensitive to emotional and life energies, I am as mediumistic as a house brick, and decided that I would have to train myself in that area to gain a foothold in the realms of the dead. Safe to say, it worked.

Della Farrant: ‘Death current’ and ‘death energy’ are phrases which people outside of occult circles generally have no familiarity with. Could you please explain for our readers what these are, how they are utilised, and what role a cemetery might play in the latter.

Fox The Rebel: Actually, as far as death energy goes, that’s a surprisingly simple one to answer. Ever stood alone in a cemetery after hours and felt the cold, entropic hum in the air? Felt all that history, the sorrow and loss, the raw untapped power left behind in the air by those who have gone before? Despite what the skeptics say, that no scientifically verifiable medium to store said impressions exists, locations do seem to hold and even store such decaying energies, forces in the air just waiting to be tapped and siphoned off by the aspiring adept. And of course, if you want to access those associated with the dead, then graveyards are the best place to do that, with scenes of mass tragedy such as Ground Zero in New York coming a close second. Perhaps it is purely psychological, nothing more than a mental contrivance that the necromancer utilises to get in the mood, perhaps it represents some hidden law of the universe. All that matters to me is that it works. The death current is a slightly different concept as it represents the idea of having one foot in the grave as a unified concept. It’s similar to the way that fandom for a particular sports team or video game saturates the entire life of the individual following them. This is the world view that I adopt when taking on the aspect of the Fox Of Bones, and in all honesty, unlike all of the other paradigms that I regularly slip into, is very difficult to discard when I decide to move on to other things.

Della Farrant: The markings on the floor of the Corey-Wright mausoleum in the heart of Highgate Cemetery were pivotal to David Farrant’s Old Bailey trial of 1974. Do you think that the markings, especially in context of the heavy marble bust which was moved to sit in conjunction with them, and the burnt out remains of black candles, could be indicative of necromantic rites of some kind? We would really appreciate your insight into just what was going on there, and for what purpose.

Fox The Rebel: Oh, they are intriguing aren’t they? For those who have not seen an image of the marks in question, they are hastily daubed white shapes and obscure letters in a script that looks suspiciously like one of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s 16th century pseudo languages, perhaps Malachim or Celestial. The triangle is a good size with an inverted pentagram inside, and can be assumed to be the eventual container for the forces being summoned until dismissal. Certain astrological symbols are also on show, most notably those of Mars and Saturn within the triangle, and the Earth in the text over by one of the walls. The bust was most likely positioned within said triangle originally, to form a focal point for the entity to inhabit during the evocation, and removed after the events of the evening had concluded. Alternatively it could have spent the whole ritual at the apex of the triangle, on the outside, but I fail to see any particular reason to do this. We also have the now prerequisite black candles burned right down to the intricately tiled floor, adding to the ‘Devil Rides Out’ feel of the whole scene. In my opinion, David Farrant and his group stumbled upon the remains of a relatively recent evocation, most likely of the gentleman whose ashes were interred within the vault, as he had surmised. I would argue that this whole sorry mess was the calling card of a small cabal of self styled black magickians, one of whom at least had a better than working knowledge of ceremonial magick; a rare enough claim to fame in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s outside of certain initiatory groups. This is not the work of necromancers but ritual magickians trying their hands at necromancy, and their lack of care in cleaning up after themselves leads me to believe that they were, for the most part, not a professional group in the least. And no, to comment on the court case for a moment, David was most likely not responsible for any of this; he was at the time a practitioner of wicca, and as such would have utilised a completely different symbology with his ritual space to achieve the same results.

Della Farrant: Do you see any continuity in what may have been being practised in Highgate Cemetery in the 1960s and early 1970s, and practices dating back to antiquity?

Fox The Rebel: To be fair, one of the ideas that I am most eager to dismiss over at my blog is that of a global satanic cabal stretching way back into antiquity. This concept is the unholy love child of the witch cult of medieval Christianity and the Illuminati related secret societies used as a linchpin of modern conspiracy thinking, and has little or no basis in fact outside of a few obsessive authors with deep seated paranoia about our current ruling classes. Various well structured and codified satanic groups exist. Some, like the Church of Satan or The Satanic Temple have little time for the ideas which would lead someone to desecrate the resting places of the dead, while those that would are usually members of small pseudo satanic clubs with a few members and little or no association with anyone else who professes to walk that darkest of paths. While the necromantic and satanic symbology on show might be the same as that used in antiquity, it is a decidedly modern interpretation of those tools that we are witnessing here, and as such the actions of these fools should not be allowed to colour the public perception of any movement for which they appear to have an association.

Della Farrant: Any thoughts on the outrages committed at nearby Tottenham Park Cemetery at Hallowe’en 1968, wherein a coffin was upended and staked in what has been attributed to the work of necromancers? And in your opinion, is there any significance to the circles of flowers left in situ, with extraneous trails of flowers leading to fresh graves?

Fox The Rebel: Again, I think that the word necromancer is being used incorrectly here. While some earlier accounts of spirit raising, usually to answer questions pertaining to the location of buried treasure, do indeed mention the recalling of the shade of the deceased back from purgatory to inhabit their mortal remains and the subsequent staking and salting of the corpse once the ritual was concluded to prevent anyone else doing the same, it is unlikely that such practises were being carried out in Tottenham Park. More likely it was the handy work of a small group of misguided teens out to undertake very specific rituals pertaining to the time of the year, Hallowe’en, and not something which would necessarily have anything in common with their regular occult methodology, if they even had one. Supposedly the veil between the world of the living and that of the dead is at its most fragile during the end of October, after all. Add to that the location, a cemetery, plus the actual physical remains of the deceased and even a complete layman could achieve results, with or without the added ritualistic colour that the flowers would bring to the table. That said, a real necromancer would not need to go to all that effort, or would even wish to. We view the remains of those who have gone before as sacred objects, and prefer to let them rest in peace, safe in the knowledge that we will join them someday ourselves.

Della Farrant: By at least the early 1960s both Highgate and Kensal Green Cemeteries had become targets for a small group of deviant opportunists, who were known to disinter and sell on certain remains of the dead, for example skulls, to a niche underground occult market. I have been contacted by some occult practitioners formerly resident in North London who have even recalled (in confidence) instances of their associates cutting out the middle man and doing this directly. What is the significance of skulls in this regard, and what is your opinion of people who engage in this activity, at any stage down the chain?

Fox The Rebel: Oh, I am pretty sure it happened, may still be happening, and I have nothing but contempt for those who would do such a thing. I have walked many a cemetery path, and seen my fair share of disturbed remains, not all looking like the work of animals. Skulls are indeed especially prized, as they are thought to be a viable method of communication between the realms of the living and the dead, especially those with lower jaws still attached. There is a lucrative market for such trinkets among those who have yet to realise that a true magickian needs no other tools to achieve results than his wits and will. Interestingly, there are shops in America who sell such artefacts legally, shipping world wide, but I am sure that the high price alone is enough to drive many people to go grab a shovel in an effort to cut their costs. And here is the best bit; Those shops sell skulls that were left to medical science or in some rarer cases deliberately intended to be used in magickal practice. I guess you could consider any indwelling spirits to be content with their position on the necromancer’s altar, and relatively willing to cooperate. But when you rip a skull from the ground and dump it on a cloth on your windowsill without its consent, you had better be prepared to reap the whirlwind. The dead are not a fluffy bunch, all unicorns and rainbows, and to invite their anger for no good reason is the height of stupidity.

Della Farrant: On to more supernatural matters, in terms of what the Highgate entity or entities might be, do you hold any personal opinions? My husband David Farrant and I have both speculated that at least some sightings could be accounted for by a servitor (the occult concept of a visually or practically manifested thought-form) created during rituals within the cemetery. It could also be a tulpa, another kind of man-made thought-form which is not a dissimilar concept, but in this instance created not using the ancient Tibetan technique but by mass consciousness as the legend spiralled out of control. Thoughts?

Fox The Rebel: Well funnily enough, I was recently accused of not believing in physical vampires, or demons made flesh, or a countless number of other related entities over at my blog, which of course made me chuckle. The fact is, I am happy to believe in those creatures as much as I do anything else, should the need arise to hunt one out for whatever reason. I work with forces that are considered by the uninitiated to be vampiric on a regular basis, for example the goddess Lilith, so I have pretty broad ideas about what is and isn’t real within that supposedly sanguine sphere. I have also worked with demons in the past, but I do not see the paw prints of any of those in what might still be running around up there in Highgate. No, I’m with you guys as far as the thought form theory goes, especially as it does not require an entity to have ever been present at the start, just the fictitious idea of one, a promise that was fulfilled by the almost limitless mental energy pored into the television sets and newspapers around the nation by a public at once enthralled and appalled by what they saw. The media of the time created that monster, and all of us who have ever thought about it’s possible existence since serve to keep it well fed.

Della Farrant: Any ideas, from a Magickal perspective, as to how it might be possible to make contact with the entity in order to divine its nature and purpose? Or even its identity? Or would any applicable methods be irresponsible of one to describe in a public interview? Such an attempt was made by members of the British Psychic and Occult Society in 1971 with terrifying results. Maybe respectful conversation as opposed to evocation would go down better with Highgate’s grumpiest ghost?!

Fox The Rebel: Well I’m pretty used to being described as irresponsible, so I’ll happily share what I can and leave others to act upon it if they wish. Firstly, I think the British Psychic and Occult Society went into the evocation with an incorrect idea about what exactly they were dealing with, and suffered the inevitable blow back. If it is a construct of some sort, a type of entity hardly recognised back then, it is safe to assume that the old fashioned circle and salt methodology would have had little effect. As the recent Slenderman case in the USA has shown all too well, we are increasingly living in a reality populated by creatures made out of raw mind stuff, and as such a new way of dealing with them will need to be created. With Slenderman, bloggers who began to show noticeable alarm at an obviously fictitious creature manifesting in the real world set out to write stories that showcased it’s weaknesses, hoping to upload those ideas into the part of the collective unconscious which stored it. Perhaps an enterprising group of local occultists could band together and do the same for the Highgate Vampire, albeit instead adding a facet to the creature’s nature wherein it enjoys conversation, or at least tolerates questions without attacking. Might be an interesting experiment.

Della Farrant: Finally, do you foresee a time when the Highgate entity may finally dissolve away? Or is it too well-fed by the energy of its many fans to hang up its cloak anytime soon?

Fox The Rebel: As long as the subject still sells books, features on blogs and gets a sly mention on the radio then it will never go away of its own accord and I truly hope that it never comes to a point where, through its actions, we are forced to seek a way to destroy it either. It is a marvellous creature, made more so by the fact that it should not exist within the confines of a sane and stable world, and for that we should feel privileged to have had any association with it at all. But hey, that’s just me. I’ve always lived with one eye focused firmly on the weird, so perhaps I’m just not as quick to jump to the conclusion that a cold stake and warm pyre is the only answer. Others, or course, are welcome to disagree, and they now know where I’ll be on the 19th of July if they want to do so in person.