Friday, 22 October 2010

Raising The Devil

Professor Bill Ellis, author of "Raising the Devil."
In 1992, Professor Bill Ellis of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research flew over from his Pennsylvania campus to meet David Farrant in London. Dr Ellis wanted to also meet and interview Bishop Seán Manchester, but, as explained to the American, the bishop will make no contribution to any project involving David Farrant. Bishop Manchester nevertheless offered to forward to Dr Ellis CDs and tapes of recorded interviews from the 1970s where Mr Farrant discusses his early claims on television and in private; claims which totally contradict his latter-day revisions. Dr Ellis showed no interest in receiving this material and settled instead for a copy of Bishop Manchester's book The Highgate Vampire, a resource he appears to have ignored in writing his own coverage of events three decades after they happened from a distance of thousands of miles.

Chapter eight of Bill Ellis' book Raising the Devil (2000), titled “The Highgate Cemetery Vampire Hunt,” is almost entirely based on what the American gleaned from David Farrant whom he met in July 1992, interpolated by Dr Ellis’ own scepticism and theory of "ostension." The chapter began its life as an article with the same title that was published in 1993 by the journal of the Folklore Society based at University College London in the UK. Bishop Seán Manchester's response to the article's catalogue of misleading and inaccurate claims about the Highgate Vampire case and himself was offered to University College London in the form of an academic paper. The Folkore Society showed no interest in the rebuttal, some of which would later become absorbed within the pages of The Vampire Hunter’s Handbook (1997). Almost as an afterthought, the Society's journal Folklore did publish a concise statement on Bishop Manchester's behalf which expressed his disappointment and disenchantment with Dr Ellis' catalogue of error.

Bill Ellis describes himself as “a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America” and someone “who has taken leadership positions and on occasion taught adult Sunday school and led services.”[1] Notwithstanding this claim, when Bishop Seán Manchester contacted the ELCA they informed him that they had no knowledge of Bill Ellis and “cannot confirm whether he is a member of the ELCA or one of the other Lutheran bodies.” The “Evangelical Lutheran” Bill Ellis defines exorcism as “a means of temporarily inducing an alternative personality … beneficial to some persons for whom conventional psychological or psychiatric therapy fails.”[2] Whereas for Bishop Manchester, at whom aspersions are cast aplenty by Dr Ellis, exorcism is the act of expelling demons (Mark 16: 17). For Bishop Manchester, who was episcopally consecrated in the traditional wing of an autocephalous Catholic Church in 1991, it is not alternative therapy for failed psychology.

Dr Ellis is nonetheless an associate professor of Anglo-American Studies at Pennsylvania State University, USA. He received his PhD in English from Ohio State University in 1978. In that long-lost era, Bill Ellis says students were told not to worry about the job market; so nor did he. He wrote his dissertation on the image of the mother in country music, drawing on Northrop Frye's theory of archetypes. It would take him six years to find a tenure-track job. Meanwhile, he taught English as an adjunct. He found work preparing the annotations to editions of Nathaniel Hawthorne's letters and notebooks, which gave him some credentials as a specialist in American literature. In 1984 he moved to Pennsylvania State's small branch campus in Hazleton, where, at the age of thirty-four, Bill Ellis finally made the transition to a regular appointment. It was not a position designed for a scholar. Most of the 1,200 students are freshmen and sophomores.

Dr Ellis usually teaches two or three composition courses each semester. That means grading roughly one thousand pages of student writing per course. It is rare that he gets to offer an upper-division class, and rarer still that the topic is folklore, his primary field of scholarly interest. As for conducting a graduate seminar, the possibility never comes up because the campus has no graduate programmes. “Bill has never been part of the mainstream of folklore scholarship,” says Gary Alan Fine, a professor of sociology at Northwestern University; adding: “His work has always been quirky.”

Quirky or not, Bill Ellis felt his self-proclaimed folkloric background qualified him to comment at length on the Highgate Vampire case which he describes at various times as nothing more than a "flap." His 1993 Folklore article prompted Bishop Seán Manchester's following observation:

“Reading like popular journalism of the most squalid kind, it loses no time in becoming a polemic wherein the personal prejudices and opinions held by Ellis dominate. A dry, impartial ‘academic report’ it is not. His cynicism underscores every line as he tries to debunk anything and everything to do with demonic molestation and satanic ritual abuse. … Ellis strives to correlate the vampire panics associated with the Highgate Vampire case with satanic child abuse panics in Britain and America, particularly ‘the appalling cases at Rochdale and the Orkney Islands.’ One might be forgiven for thinking that he is somewhat out on a limb. … Ellis is willing to employ a discredited publicity-seeker in his mission. … His only other resource was an array of press cuttings [selected and provided by Farrant], many of them flawed and some followed by retractions and amendments that he failed to take into account. Again, the source of much of the contentious reporting in the popular press at the time was Farrant himself. To this person Ellis gives ‘more emphasis than the others as his actions were demonstrably more central to events’.”[3]

However, Dr Ellis did concede in correspondence to the bishop, dated 22 February 1996: “Since my piece appeared in Folklore I have received several packets of material correcting my account.”

One of many misleading statements in the Folklore article is that Mr Farrant and Bishop Manchester were once “rival members” of the British Occult Society. This false allegation was expurgated by Dr Ellis from Raising the Devil. Likewise, Jacqueline Simpson of the Folklore Society was also obliged to remove it when she came to publish the paperback edition of her book The Lore of the Land (2005), which merely propagates Bill Ellis' misinformation where Highgate Cemetery and the vampire case is concerned.

When Bishop Seán Manchester first encountered David Farrant in early 1970, Mr Farrant was residing in a coal bunker. This was the setting where the bishop interviewed him following Mr Farrant's letter published in a local newspaper on 6 February 1970. The letter (reproduced in its entirety by Bill Ellis on page 219) is revealing. David Farrant claims that he had thrice witnessed “a ghost-like figure inside the gates” at Highgate Cemetery in the preceding weeks, ending with the admission that he had “no knowledge in this field” (the field in question being psychic investigation). Yet, incredibly, on page 217, Dr Ellis introduces Mr Farrant, circa 1970, as a “psychic investigator.”

In June 1974, David Farrant was convicted of stealing from a hospital, illegal possession of a handgun and ammunition, malicious vandalism to tombs, breaking and entry into a mausoleum, offering (by means of black magic) indignities to remains of the dead, and threatening police witnesses with voodoo dolls transfixed with pins and accompanying menacing poems. Except for the verdicts on Mr Farrant’s tomb vandalism and his sending of voodoo dolls, Dr Ellis describes the remainder of the aforementioned convictions as “minor offences.”[4] What outrage needs to be committed by Mr Farrant to qualify as a serious offence? Judge Michael Argyle commented at the conclusion to David Farrant’s trials: “Any interference with a corpse during black magic rituals could properly be regarded as a great scandal and a disgrace to religion, decency and morality.” Dr Ellis relegates such interference to the “minor” category. He presents David Farrant as a “psychic investigator” who “continues to receive and investigate accounts of supernatural phenomena” and then bleats on about Mr Farrant’s rights being “infringed because he had not been able to practice Wicca in jail”[5]

David Farrant’s “right” to summon a satanic force during a depraved ritual employing sex and blood with a naked girl in Highgate Cemetery, as described by the man himself in New Witchcraft, finds Bill Ellis looking askance. Instead we read: “While the media were increasingly billing him as a black magician, Farrant was not deterred from continuing his occult investigations. By December he had agreed to help John Pope.”[6] Conveniently omitted is the fact that John Pope was at that time the head of the United Temples of Satan and in 1973 (when he formed his alliance with Mr Farrant) was also under suspicion for occasioning ritual abuse. He was later convicted of indecent assault on a minor. We must not forget, of course, what Dr Ellis wrote in his own book’s Acknowledgements: “Some of my close professional friends are in fact participants in the Neo-Pagan movement, and I respect both their beliefs and the actions they have taken based on them.”[7]

Dr Ellis goes along with pretty much everything he was told by Mr Farrant in July 1992 when they met. Consequently, readers are given the impression that David Farrant “returned to Highgate Cemetery in 1969” to continue his supposed investigations when he “decided to spend a night in Highgate [Cemetery], choosing December 21, 1969, the winter solstice … and he saw ‘two eyes meeting my gaze at the top of the shape … [which] were not human,’.”[8] Bill Ellis’ source is Mr Farrant’s latter-day revisionist pamphlet Beyond the Highgate Vampire.

On the next page of Raising the Devil, the author reproduces David Farrant’s first published letter to the Hampstead & Highgate Express, 6 February 1970, where we learn that Mr Farrant saw the “ghost-like figure” inside the cemetery gates for the very first time on 24 December 1969. Dr Ellis ignores this anomaly. Moreover, Mr Farrant’s letter makes it clear that, far from deciding to spend the night in the graveyard, all three occurrences, including his first alleged sighting, took place on nights when he “walk[ed] home past the gates of Highgate Cemetery.” Many had seen the phenomenon, of course, and this is how David Farrant himself learned about it, as confirmed by what he told the police. In an official and signed statement, Mr Farrant told police that he heard the vampire rises out of its grave and wanders about the cemetery on the look-out for human beings on whose blood it thrives. He was quoted saying this by the Evening Standard, 18 August 1970.

Having mentioned correspondence in the Hampstead & Highgate Express for 27 February 1970, Dr Ellis then refers to the “next weekly issue [that] featured Manchester’s warnings under the wry headline ‘Does a wampyr walk in Highgate?’.”[9] The famous headline was published on 27 February 1970; the same day, not the following week.

Ellis then attributes the infamous “King Vampire from Wallachia” remark to Bishop Seán Manchester and muddles this with a “castle,” despite having been informed by Bishop Manchester's 1996 academic paper, 1997 book, and private correspondence that this was a journalistic embellishment which did not originate with him. The bishop had already addressed Ellis' article:

“The source this time is a press cutting where a statement was slightly misquoted, plus a travesty of what is written in The Highgate Vampire. For ‘fine house in London’s West End’ read Ashurst House which once stood at the western end of the site now occupied by Highgate Cemetery. I did not suggest that Ashurst House became, or previously had been, a castle. The castle Ellis is referring to existed many centuries earlier and had nothing to do with the contagion. ... What I actually state, and have always stated, is 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 does not have quite the same sensationalist impact as ‘King Vampire from Wallachia,’ which is the Draculesque adornment preferred both by Ellis and the journalist responsible for the front page press report.”[10]

“To be sure,” Ellis reports using old newspapers as his source, “his theory was at first not taken seriously. … Even [the Reverend Neil-Smith] called Manchester’s vampire theory ‘a novelistic embellishment’.”[11] Three years earlier Bishop Manchester had published: “Then we come to the Reverend Christopher Neil-Smith, the late vicar of St Saviour’s Church, Hampstead. … In fact, Neil-Smith was originally quoted as saying: ‘I believe the whole idea of vampires is probably a novelistic embellishment.’ However, within a very short space of time the same priest claimed to have confronted and exorcised several vampires. Interviewed by Daniel Farsons, Reverend Neil-Smith accepted ‘that there is such a thing as vampirism,’ as recorded in the book Mysterious Monsters (1978). Ellis makes no mention of these quotes which far outnumber the single occasion when the priest appeared to entertain some doubt on the issue; assuming, that is, he was not misquoted by the newspaper reporter in 1970.”[12] The fact that this is the same priest who sought to exorcise people of David Farrant’s evil is also not mentioned by Bill Ellis.

The claim on page 222 that the early weeks in 1970 “were dominated by an escalating rivalry between Farrant and Manchester” is also untrue. Bishop Seán Manchester barely knew Mr Farrant at the time and the latter played no part in the investigation at Highgate. On the same page the following error is found: “The programme also aired a series of ghost stories from a group of young neighbourhood children, one of whom asserted, ‘I actually saw its face and it looked like it had been dead for a long time’.” This is inaccuarte. The Today programme on Thames Television, 13 March 1970, reveals David Farrant, not any of the children, uttering the words “I actually saw its face and it looked like it had been dead for a long time.”

When Ellis refers to Bishop Seán Manchester it is someone “who claimed to have been present … etc.”[13] David Farrant, however, is taken at his word by Dr Ellis who invariably presents the charlatan absent of the aspersion that he was “claiming” to be somewhere, or “claiming” to be how he might describe himself. Bishop Manchester suffers the misfortune of “claiming ordination”[14] while Mr Farrant is “the head of the reorganized British Psychic and Occult Society.”[15] Bill Ellis claims an awful lot. If he were writing for a sensation-seeking tabloid newspaper it would be regrettable, but when publishing what he laughingly terms a “scholarly book” it is untenable. He publishes what he does without any balancing comment. Dr Ellis, who was not present, presumes that “many of the vampire-hunters in Highgate took the event as a lark.”[16] In fact, the mass vampire hunt on the night of 13 March 1970, involving hundreds of people, manifested precisely because so many people had heard about the reports and taken them extremely seriously. Dr Ellis opines that Mr Farrant’s version of events is somehow reliable; though he did attempt to furiously backpeddle from that footnote when called to account by Bishop Seán Manchester in private correspondence. Thus everything we learn from Bill Ellis about Highgate, Bishop Manchester and David Farrant originates either from very selective, flawed press cuttings or indeed Mr Farrant himself. There is no input from Bishop Seán Manchester whose book The Highgate Vampire Ellis possessed.

When David Farrant was arrested in August 1970 by police searching for diabolists and was made to appear at a magistrate’s court, Dr Ellis claims he was “exonerated” when, in fact, he got off on a technicality. Charged with being in an enclosed area for an unlawful purpose, his defence solicitor successfully argued that, in the strict sense of the wording, Highgate Cemetery is not an enclosed area. What Dr Ellis does not tell his readers is that Mr Farrant, when first charged by the police, pleaded guilty before later changing his plea to one of not guilty. It was only after his release that David Farrant admitted he had been in contact with Satanists, which might or might not be true. It is difficult to know with David Farrant, but he soon afterwards began to evince a form of theatrical Satanism himself, as we find in the article he wrote for New Witchcraft and also confirmed by Dr J Gordon Melton in his coverage of the Highgate Vampire. In recorded interviews, David Farrant admits to worshipping Lucifer, engaging in animal sacrifices, raising demons and putting curses on people. None of this will be discovered within the pages of Bill Ellis' Raising the Devil.

Dr Ellis speaks of Mr Farrant’s “supporters” when he clearly had no support. He was a lone publicity-seeker who duped gullible individuals into posing for photographs that invariably ended up in the Sunday tabloids or magazines such as New Witchcraft. This much can be deduced from the press coverage at the time. Dr Ellis is biased towards Mr Farrant’s whitewash without any critical regard for the facts. Consequently, when he refers to David Farrant’s collaboration with “an Evening News reporter … in October 1970”[17] it bears no similarity to the actual report, much less does it mention that this ludicrous outing was headlined as a “midnight date with Highgate’s Vampire.” Barrie Simmons was the journalist in question and his five column feature, complete with a half-page of photographs, was nothing more than a sensation-seeking, albeit amateurish, vampire hunting enterprise.


David Farrant "stalking the vampire" for BBC television in 1970.
“Clutched under his arm, in a Sainsbury’s carrier bag,” wrote Mr Simmons, “[Farrant] held the tools of his trade. There was the cross made out of two bits of wood tied together with a shoelace and a stake to plunge through the heart of the beast.”[18] No mention of this is made by Dr Ellis, needless to say. For him David Farrant’s revisionism takes precedence. Thus we read in Bill Ellis' book that “they surveyed the damage done: graves opened, skulls stolen, vaults defaced with strange scrawls.”[19] What was actually important to Barrie Simmons was David Farrant’s very amateurish stalking of the vampire. Not so in Bill Ellis’ version. There are no stakes, no cross made out of two bits of wood and a shoelace. Indeed, no vampire hunting! In his previous paragraph, dealing with the August arrest and court appearance, Dr Ellis reproduces Mr Farrant’s latter-day falsehood that he never went vampire hunting with a cross and a stake. This had all “been fabricated by the police” we are required to accept. He then reproduces David Farrant’s preposterous claim that he was “using the ‘stake’ with string attached to cast a magic circle for the ritual.”[20] Despite the BBC, 15 October 1970, television transmission clearly showing Mr Farrant in Highgate Cemetery with a sharpened stake in his hand, wearing a large cross around his neck, and stalking the Highgate Vampire (see above image), and despite having seen countless photographs of David Farrant wielding a wooden stake and crucifix, Bill Ellis avoids any mention of Barrie Simmons’ midnight stalking of the vampire with Mr Farrant which is what the article is really about. Instead readers of Raising the Devil are given a misleading impression in which David Farrant and the Evening News reporter are merely “surveying” damage in Highgate Cemetery.

It would be almost amusing, were it not so serious, to see how easily someone as uneducated as David Farrant can pull the wool over an academic’s eyes, over and over again. Dr Ellis describes the “evidence that black witches had broken into a mausoleum”[21] as being the result of Mr Farrant’s “investigating.” Yet this same evidence was used at the Old Bailey to convict David Farrant of tomb vandalism. Detail of this kind Dr Ellis chooses to overlook. He quotes Mr Farrant’s unsubstantiated claim: “I know who was responsible for the desecration.”[22] If Mr Farrant knows who is responsible for the tomb vandalism for which he was found guilty, why on earth has he not identified those responsible? The answer is obvious, but readers of Bill Ellis’ book will not find this question even raised. Only David Farrant’s counterfeit version is told, not the court reports that led to guilty verdicts. Dr Ellis is selective. He hears only what he wants to hear; only what fits his agenda of twisting the facts to suport his personal theory that the entire Highgate legend is the product of "ostensive behaviour."

“After [June 1974], the Highgate affair disappeared from public comment for some time,”[23] Dr Ellis incorrectly claims. He seems to believe that the “Highgate affair” revolved around David Farrant's shenanigans and proceeds to proffer Mr Farrant’s perverse version of what was described in the sensational press as a “magical duel” in 1973. Dr Ellis writes: “Shortly before the event, a tabloid press article muddied the water by claiming that both Manchester and Farrant intended to slaughter a cat in front of an assembly of naked witches.”[24] Dr Ellis does not identify the newspaper in his text, but this is what the Sunday Mirror, 8 April 1973, reported alongside a photograph of David Farrant and a nude girl: “The bizarre ceremony will involve naked witches, demon-raisings and the slaughter of a cat.” Bishop Seán Manchester is quoted as saying: “My opponent intends to raise a demon to destroy me by killing a cat - I will be relying solely on divine power.” Mr Farrant insisted: “Blood must be spilled, but the cat will be anaesthetised.” The Sun newspaper, 23 November 1972, had earlier quoted Bishop Manchester stating that Mr Farrant’s boasts ought to be put to the test: “The quickest way to destroy the credibility of a witch trying to earn a reputation for himself is to challenge his magical ability before objective observers.”

Yet unlike the print media, who did invite versions from both sides, no balancing comment was sought from Bishop Seán Manchester by Bill Ellis. The bishop told what actually happened in From Satan To Christ, a work Ellis refers to by name in the text of Raising the Devil. The same work's revelations, however, he completely chose to ignore. The notorious posters advertising the “duel” were traced at the time to David Farrant who had engaged a small printing company used by him on earlier occasions. Dr Ellis repeats Mr Farrant’s falsehood to imply that Bishop Manchester was responsible for the posters. Yet even Brian Netscher, editor of New Witchcraft, revealed in his magazine’s first issue: “As to the ‘test of powers’ challenge, it is a matter of public record that Mr Farrant not only accepted it but publicised it widely in the national press and by means of a rather crudely-made poster.”

Bishop Seán Manchester wrote of the incident in From Satan To Christ (1988):

“There was no sign of Farrant. He had been fearlessly called to account and, like so many others who use witchcraft to instil dread, could not fulfill the least of his claims when the day of reckoning arrived. … Farrant’s excuse was that he would have been lynched by the crowd of onlookers whose arrival was entirely due to the publicity he had created in the preceding weeks.”


[1] Raising the Devil by Bill Ellis (University Press of Kentucky, 2000, pxii).
[2] Raising the Devil by Bill Ellis (University Press of Kentucky, 2000, p282).
[3] The Vampire Hunter’s Handbook by Seán Manchester (Gothic Press, 1997, p68).
[4] Raising the Devil by Bill Ellis (University Press of Kentucky, 2000, p235).
[5] Raising the Devil by Bill Ellis (University Press of Kentucky, 2000, p237).
[6] Raising the Devil by Bill Ellis (University Press of Kentucky, 2000, p233).
[7] Raising the Devil by Bill Ellis (University Press of Kentucky, 2000, pxii).
[8] Raising the Devil by Bill Ellis (University Press of Kentucky, 2000, p218).
[9] Raising the Devil by Bill Ellis (University Press of Kentucky, 2000, p221).
[10] The Vampire Hunter’s Handbook by Seán Manchester (Gothic Press, 1997, p103).
[11] Raising the Devil by Bill Ellis (University Press of Kentucky, 2000, p222).
[12] The Vampire Hunter’s Handbook by Seán Manchester (Gothic Press, 1997, p72).
[13] Raising the Devil by Bill Ellis (University Press of Kentucky, 2000, p223).
[14] Raising the Devil by Bill Ellis (University Press of Kentucky, 2000, p238).
[15] Raising the Devil by Bill Ellis (University Press of Kentucky, 2000, p237).
[16] Raising the Devil by Bill Ellis (University Press of Kentucky, 2000, p223).
[17] Raising the Devil by Bill Ellis (University Press of Kentucky, 2000, p224).
[18] “Midnight Date With Highgate’s Vampire” by Barrie Simmons (Evening News, 16 October 1970).
[19] Raising the Devil by Bill Ellis (University Press of Kentucky, 2000, p224).
[20] Raising the Devil by Bill Ellis (University Press of Kentucky, 2000, p224).
[21] Raising the Devil by Bill Ellis (University Press of Kentucky, 2000, p227).
[22] Raising the Devil by Bill Ellis (University Press of Kentucky, 2000, p227).
[23] Raising the Devil by Bill Ellis (University Press of Kentucky, 2000, p228).
[24] Raising the Devil by Bill Ellis (University Press of Kentucky, 2000, p231).