This article was originally published on Vamped on August 17, 2014.
On November 25, 2013 serendipity smiled on me with a set of vampire fangs. This was the day I had the fortunate pleasure of meeting Anthony Hogg and funny enough it was when he was suspended temporarily from Facebook. You may be wondering how we met? Well, I was randomly looking for some “vampire” groups on Facebook and his group The Vampirologist came up, so I joined. Before his group became popular he usually posted “welcome” to new members and honestly that was the only reason I spoke to him in the first place. I had no idea he was a vampirologist, why he used Brad Pitt’s face for a profile pic, awareness that the Highgate Vampire case even existed, little knowledge about the online vampire community or folklore for that matter.
We hit it off and our new friendship turned my world upside down, but in a good way. To say I was impressed by his accomplishments, book collection and writing was an understatement. Meeting someone so passionate about their work was refreshing, and the bonus was Anthony’s patience and eagerness to educate me on everything in the vampire genre. Hell, he is the reason I even started writing articles in the first place, why I am learning to design websites and doing Vamped with him. I like to think of him as my mentor and my ultimate goal is surpass the teacher, which I will do! People are often influenced by celebrities, authors, athletes, artists or the like and look to them for inspiration. I happened to find my inspiration with a vampirologist from Australia.
With Anthony’s extensive history and online presence in his field I felt it was time for him to cut loose and actually ask him the questions. It amazed me that no one had ever asked Anthony to do a proper interview before, besides the podcast he did on the Highgate Vampire case with Trystan Swale. Months ago I added it to my personal priority list and finally, here we are. So without further adieu would the real Anthony Hogg please stand up!
Anthony I have to ask for our readers, you being a Vampirologist, what lead you into this field and what is the backstory on your interest with the subject?
I’ve been into the supernatural ever since I was a kid. Whether it be ghost stories, mythology, mysteries, I find that stuff fascinating. But vampires were something I locked into relatively late in the game—but I can pinpoint the moment. The night before I started Grade 6, I watched Fright Night Part 2 (1988) on TV—I was into horror then, too. And it just grabbed me. After that, I began reading whatever I could on vampires. I raided my school library and local libraries, too.
We had a class called “Process Writing”, where we had to create a book from scratch. The first one I did that year was called Vampires: Fact or Fiction?, which was heavily “inspired” by a few books I read, like Lynn Myring’s Vampires, Werewolves & Demons (1979), Colin and Jacqui Hawkins’ Shriek! A Compendium of Witches, Vampires and Spooks (1985) and Terry Deary’s True Monster Stories (1992); basically a mixture of factoids and a short story I wrote called “Terror from Beyond the Grave” which was about a Jack the Ripper-like vampire prowling London. I really wish I knew where that book was. For all I know, it’s been binned, unfortunately.
I’ve never truly gotten a grasp on why vampires—or Fright Night Part 2, for that matter—grabbed me the way they did, but on reflection, I’d say they were an encapsulation of my previous interests. The vampire is essentially a corporeal supernatural being; a “living ghost.” There were two other things that grabbed me about it, though: the trappings and its mythic nature. There’s something about supernatural beings following “rules” that I like.
You’ve probably heard of ghosts, fairies and werewolves kept at bay with iron and the like. Vampires are like that, too. Garlic keeps them away; you gotta stake them through the heart, that kinda thing. Rules. I’m talking about it in a pop culture sense here.
Similar tropes appear in Greek mythology (which I was particularly into when I was 9—I even named our pet dog, Herakles); little devices the hero must use to slay the beast. Perseus wields a mirrored shield against Medusa, Bellerophon kills the Chimera with a piece of lead on the end of his spear, that kinda thing. There’s something novel, creative yet reassuring about those tropes.
I think Fright Night Part 2 had that, but took it up a notch. Peter Vincent doesn’t just splash a vampire with holy water—he has a water tank filled with the stuff, strapped to his back. Instead of the up close and personal mallet and stake job, they wield a speargun loaded with wooden skewers. Clever stuff. A blend of the old and new.
Now what do I mean about the mythic element? The classic good guys vs. bad guys narrative. Light vs. darkness. The most obvious example’s Van Helsing vs. Count Dracula. I was much more into vampire hunters than I was vampires. It wasn’t a being I could sympathise with, not that I couldn’t appreciate clever vampire narratives; one short story I remember reading, was about a Jewish vampire in a Polish ghetto during Nazi occupation—but it’s the men vs. monsters thing that got me hooked.
The vampirological side of it came much later. I was content gorging on vampire pop culture, but eight years ago, I started wanting to do something with the knowledge I accrued. The non-fiction aspect always interested me, right from the beginning—one of the earlier books I read on the subject was Paul Barber’s Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality (1988)—and the “study” aspect has been an undercurrent in my life.
When I was 8, I was into dinosaurs, so I wanted to be a palaeontologist. Later, I briefly flirted with the idea of being an archaeologist thanks to the Indiana Jones films, so I wanted to be an archaeologist. Then, I got into ghosts (which ran close second behind my interest in vampires), so I wanted to be a parapsychologist—there’s a recurring theme there. In this case, I began building demo websites and delved into vampire history. The more I delved, the more I began to learn about the way the vampire myth developed over time.
That path lead me to chasing down 18th century writings on the subject, which in turn, lead me to Niels K. Petersen’s blog, Magia Posthuma—which made me realise I wasn’t toiling away on my own: there were other people out there who shared my specific interest in this stuff. I mean, I knew there had to be, but his was the first I saw encapsulated as a blog.
Reading through Niels’ posts not only blew me away on account of his knowledge of the genre, but also made me realise, “Hey, I can do this, too.” I mean the vampirological ones, specifically—I’d already been blogging about the Highgate Vampire case before that.
Your guest post “Vampirologist, Anyone?” on VampChix is informative, but how and why did you decide on folklore as your niche when you mentioned a Vampirologist’s focus of study can also be books, movies etc?
I think Paul Barber’s book is largely responsible for that decision. I remember that after I wrote that Grade 6 book, I began jotting down all sorts of lore in a notebook I still have floating about somewhere. I also sketched out all the things needed to hunt the undead and to protect yourself from them—I think that comes back to the “rules”, trappings and such I mentioned before. It’s also more real, more authentic to me—this is stuff people genuinely believed in, and in some cases, still do. It’s a modern-day myth.
Vampirology’s a multidisciplinary field of study, which basically means that any particular expertise can be used to cover the subject. Take Barber, for instance. He viewed the vampire through the lens of forensic pathology. Then you’ve got something like Buffy Studies, which has an incredible body of scholarship behind it. David Lavery traced 50 disciplines in his article, ““I wrote my thesis on you!”: Buffy Studies as an Academic Cult” and vampirology’s one of them. If a field dedicated to a TV show has that many disciplines, imagine how many more vampire studies—vampirology—has.
The sheer dearth of material is also one of the problems: unless you’re a vampire encyclopedist like J. Gordon Melton, you can’t be an expert on everything. And even if you went that way, you’d be stretching your knowledge pretty thin. So, in my case, I simply hone in on the aspect that interests me most and encourage others to do the same.
On January 9, 2009 you published an article on the same site titled “A Note on Amateurs” and stated the following, “Allow me to explain why I refer to myself as an amateur vampirologist. Firstly, a vampirologist is someone who studies vampires. This doesn’t mean they go about prying open coffin lids and such, it means they take a scholarly, academic bent to the subject in question. I consider myself to be an amateur because even though I’ve been studying the topic for some years, I’ve never had anything formally published on it.”
On Monday, February 28, 2011 you published your article “Unearthing Nosferatu” stating, “Incidentally, my article’s inclusion in The Borgo Post marks a significant milestone in my ‘career’ as a vampirologist: this is the first vampire-related article I’ve submitted for a print publication.”
On September 21, 2011 you published your final blog entry on Diary of an Amateur Vampirologist titled, “End of an Era” that listed at that point you had written 276 articles.
So based on your own definitions why did it take you until September 21, 2011 to close your Diary of an Amateur Vampirologist and classify yourself as a real vampirologist when your article in The Borgo Post was published in February 2011? Was your published work what triggered this decision or were their other deciding factors for the official name change?
I really enjoyed writing Diary of an Amateur Vampirologist; it helped develop my reputation and establish an excellent network. But most importantly, it was an great outlet for my interests. But the “amateur” tag—it felt too prohibitive, too restrictive. Would you want to live under that yoke for the rest of your life? I didn’t.
You’ve made an interesting connection between what I wrote for The Borgo Post and my decision for the name change, but the truth is, I had already been wanting to do it for a long time. Earlier, I mentioned playing about with demo websites (which I was doing long before blogging) and I’d already decided to call one The Vampirologist as far back as 2006. I did have a crack at a website with Freewebs called Real Vampires, which was meant to be a sort of mythbusting site, but that site seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth.
In the long run, I’d love to write more articles and books, too. I’ve just gotta find the time, will and inclination to do it. I do keep a lot of notes though and a hefty resource collection, so who knows. Maybe one day.
Through personal conversations, you’ve mentioned to me how networking has enabled you to directly interact with authors you hold in high regard such as Niel K. Petersen, Bruce A. McClelland, Martin V. Riccardo, Jan L. Perkowski, Jeanne Keyes Youngson, Paul Barber and J. Gordon Melton. On the website LibraryThing your profile boasts a book collection of an impressive 231 titles books as of this writing. On Amazon.com you have a published list called “Become an Instant Vampire Expert” depicting the essentials for any aspiring vampirologist, which I have to add I’ve purchased all of these titles based on your recommendations. If you had to choose your favorite book what would it be and why? Also if you had to pick an author that has been the most influential on your vampirologist journey who would that be and why?
That’s just the ones I’ve catalogued on LibraryThing. There’s more. And I’ve corresponded with more than them, too. One thing that amazes me, that makes me feel blessed in this whole online writing business, is that it’s allowed me to get in touch with authors I grew up reading or reading about. When people think “celebrities”, they typically go for actors, musicians—but for me, it’s those guys. People whose work I admire. I’m a closet fanboy—well, maybe not so much now, considering I’ve just mentioned it. Fortunately, they’ve been down to earth, warm and very receptive on the whole, which makes my job a helluva lot easier.
If I had to choose my favourite book from the lot listed, I couldn’t. It’s very hard for me to pick “bests”, but if I had to tell someone to get two books from that list, I’d tell them to get Barber’s Vampires, Burial, and Death and Jan L. Perkowski’s Vampire Lore (2006). Those works are absolutely vital. I’m not big on his Bogomil theories for the origin for the vampire myth, though, so Bruce A. McClelland tempers his work excellently. So get his 2006 book, Slayers and Their Vampires, too! Argh, see, if you ask me a question like that, I’m gonna try and justify getting them all. So, here’s what I’ll do instead: I’ll mention a few other books I’ve enjoyed, ones not mentioned on that list. That’ll give an idea of what I like.
The most recent example I’ll mention is Will Storr’s The Heretics: Adventures with the Enemies of Science (2013). Honestly, that book blew my mind—and opened it up, too. I also like Franz Rottensteiner’s The Fantasy Book: The Ghostly, the Gothic, the Magical, the Unreal (1978), an absolutely gorgeous thing to leaf through. I’m big into mythbusting stuff, so Joe Nickell’s paranormal works particularly appeal to me. That’s are just a teeny, tiny sample.
As to an author most influential to me on my “journey”, now that’s a tough one. But if push came to shove, I’d have to say it’d be Barber again. His book went way beyond the generic reading on the subject I was doing when I first got interested in vampires. He also offered the most plausible explanations for vampire phenomena. That notebook I mentioned before? It was his book I was mostly scribbling things from. Yeah, definitely Barber. He’s a real nice guy, too. It’s a shame he’s not more prolific. To date, he’s only written one other book—co-written with his wife, Elizabeth, actually: When They Severed Earth from Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth (2004).
From the myth-busting side of things, I’ve gotta give a shout out to Elizabeth Miller, whose Dracula scholarship is beyond compare. She’s also been a big inspiration. If I could recommend one of her books, I’d say choose Dracula: Sense & Nonsense (2000; 2006). I called it “An enema to the field of Dracula scholarship” not long after I read it and—horrific visual aside—I stand by that. Its principles should be applied to vampirology, too.
That said, myth-busting’s been with me a long time, thanks to watching shows like ABC’s Media Watch—in fact, my early attempts at websites incorporated their highlighted text elements. The skeptical approach is also something that interests me, greatly. It’s like detective work. Niels’ blog, however, was hugely influential in establishing my own online presence as a vampirologist. So I’ll add him to the list, too.
As someone with a marketing background I understand how crucial to success in any given field networking is and I have seen first hand how far your network reaches. Can you elaborate for our readers and list your numerous blogs, Facebook pages and groups, Twitter account, and Tumblr account? Also can you specify which societies you hold memberships for and why?
I can certainly try! I’m pretty active on Facebook, which is why I created the Facebook section of my blog. A cop out, I know, but much easier than listing them all. But my main presence is on my Facebook group, “The Vampirologist“, which was intended as a spin-off from my Blogger blog, but has taken on a life of its own.
Apart from “The Vampirologist” stuff, I also sporadically write about the Highgate Vampire case via my blog, Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?.
I’m only a member of one society: the Transylvanian Society of Dracula, Canadian chapter. I became a member of that organisation due to my admiration for Elizabeth Miller’s work (she’s the society’s president) and so I could get my hands on their excellent annual journal, the Journal of Dracula Studies and its newsletter, The Borgo Post. I’ve written two articles for it, so far.
In your article “A Problem with Christians” you state, “Christianity has been integral to the development of the vampire myth. It was established in pre-dominantly Orthodox Slavic territories; priests were utilized during exhumations; the vampire, itself, was believed to be a demon-possessed corpse; the era which gave “birth” to vampire studies—the 17th and 18th centuries—often incorporated a Christian perspective from Christian writers, the most notable example being Dom Augustin Calmet, a French Benedictine monk.” Being a Christian yourself can you explain why you don’t believe in vampires and how your faith correlates to supernatural beliefs and being a Vampirologist?
Now that’s a tricky one. First off, I’ll say that being a Christian—having supernatural beliefs—doesn’t preclude believing in all forms of supernatural. Otherwise, why not werewolves, ogres and mermaids, too? In Christian theology, the supernatural stems from two sources: God or Satan. A vampire, on the other hand, is a demon (or spirit) possessed spirit that feeds on blood, presumably as a necessity. Except demons don’t need blood, do they? They’re incorporeal beings, after all. They don’t need food or drink, like we do. They certainly don’t need to possess the dead.
When I started getting into vampires, I had discussions about this with my dad. Basically, if demons can possess the living, can they possess the dead, too? The conclusion was that there was no Scriptural evidence to back it up. Scriptural evidence is the Christian supernatural equivalent of using empiricism to determine scientific conclusions. You don’t have to believe in the religion to determine what’s “canon”, so to speak. You just need Scriptural backing behind it.The early writers on the subject, Calmet, et. al. understood that, too—and most shared the same skepticism.
Calmet, for instance, is often painted as a believer, but as Massimo Introvigne points out in his article, “Antoine Faivre: Father of Contemporary Vampire Studies” (2001), Calmet’s views have been greatly misrepresented. In fact, I debunked the idea that mainstream Christian churches have upheld belief in vampires—which, I should mention, includes a Pope!—courtesy of a four part article called “The Church vs. the Undead,” which I used to refute Sean Manchester’s “Vampirological Testimony”, which, by the way, not only wasn’t “testimony” but also hugely misrepresentative. Here’s part one, part two, part three and part four.
Now the other reason I don’t believe in vampires is because I view the supernatural from a skeptical lens, too. The whole “extraordinary proof requires extraordinary evidence” angle. My faith is my faith, but proof of the supernatural is another thing all together. My friend, Sean Melvin, once told me I’m “a Christian who thinks like an atheist”—and that’s probably the best description of my approach I’ve ever heard.
There’s a distinction between saying “I believe this happened” as opposed to “here’s proof that this happened”—because once you do that, it’s wide open to scrutiny and I apply that to attempts by people who share my faith to “scientifically validate” it, too. For instance, Creationism which is faith masquerading as science. Now when we’re talking about vampires, we’ve got two rationales I’ll personally consider: is there a Scriptural justification? Is there a scientific one? The answer’s no on both counts. That said, is it possible vampiric phenomena is a demonic illusion of some sort? Maybe. But proof first, please.
In terms of being a vampirologist and how it correlates with my faith, I’m not sure it does—it’s more like a personal interest. I was Christian long before I was into vampires. That said, the Judeo-Christian trappings—like warding off vampires with crosses, holy water and the like—have greater appeal to me. And I admit, my faith prohibits me from delving too deeply: you won’t see me drinking blood or practising vampire magick, even as an “experiment.” So maybe there’s more to it than I’ve realised.
In terms of belief, the notion one must believe in a subject to study it, is an interesting assumption. After all, we don’t expect folklorists to believe in pixies and goblins, so why vampirologists believing in vampires? Literary critics don’t need to believe Elizabeth Bennet was a real person to study Pride and Prejudice any more than one needs to think Dracula was a real vampire count, either.
Having an online presence as a Vampirologist it was necessary to submerge yourself in the Online Vampire Community primarily on Facebook. Would you say over the years your interactions with this community has created a new awareness for your academic studies and exposed you to new topics you wouldn’t have considered before? Also what was your personal experience venturing into an unchartered territory like this as an outsider?
I don’t think it’s necessary to submerge yourself in the Online Vampire Community (OVC), unless, of course, you’re studying them, making friends, or trying to understand them—or want to join the party. My primary involvement with the OVC, is being an active member of the “Vampire Community News” Facebook group and participating in a round table discussion called “Vampyre ~ Superstition, Society and Subculture” for an e-zine called John Reason’s Real Vampire Life. I should point out, though, that I don’t identify as a vampire—I’m your garden variety human.
I would agree, though, that my interactions have produced a new awareness, not necessarily of academic studies—although it did inadvertently lead me to Joseph Laycock’s excellent Vampires Today: The Truth about Modern Vampirism (2009) and Maria Mellins’ Vampire Culture (2013). The awareness it gave me was the sheer diversity of the OVC. There’s no one-size-fits all for people who identify as vampires. My participation has also given me a greater appreciation for people who identify as vampires and why they identify as vampires in the first place.
The recurring theme I find in their identities is a basic pattern—again, it’s not one size fits all, so there’ll certainly be variables—that has them starting young, then experiencing an “awakening” during puberty. It reminds me of that poltergeist theory, funnily enough—that the phenomena, a form of psychokinesis, manifests at that age. Anyway, the other unifier is some sort of “need”—at least, a perceived need for blood or psychic energy. I say “perceived”, because I’m yet to hear about anyone actually dying from blood starvation or chi malnutrition.
This “need” might be biological, genetic or spiritual. Many shades. In that respect, it certainly does open an interesting avenue for further research: if these symptoms are so prevalent, and they have a physiological basis, then what’s causing them? I recall one member of the OVC discussing the possibility of her condition being a “deficiency”—like an iron deficiency—and that’s the most plausible explanation I’ve heard. However, it could also be a form of pica, with New Age overlay.
The thing I notice in particular, though, is that certain “symptoms”, that is, signs one is a member of the OVC, have clearly been influenced by pop culture depictions of vampires—for instance, an aversion to sunlight, a trope derived from Nosferatu (1922). That’s especially noticeable when such “real vampires” claim themselves as a sort of race that inspired the folkloric/fictional variety, when it’s clearly the other way around. That makes me think a psychological angle’s at play. Something psychosomatic.
Many also seem to shy away from the history of vampirism, or rely heavily on rumours. For instance, many align themselves with vampire “houses” which, in reality, seem to go back no further than the 1960s despite the allure of ancientness. Others use “vampyre” to distinguish themselves from the “mythical” vampire, perhaps without realising that “vampyre” and “vampire” mean the same thing; “vampyre” merely being the archaic spelling of “vampire”, before being hijacked and pointlessly retooled by certain folk in the Vampire Community. I’ve also tried to seek evidence for examples of Vampire Communities prior the 1960s or 70s—and been left wanting. This is clearly a comparatively recent movement.
So, the definition that’s resonated with me most, is one by Donna Michele Fernstrom, who says that “vampire” is a term of convenience for the Vampire Community, used to denote people who share certain characteristics with pop culture depictions of the vampire. I can buy that—I often use it as a term of convenience in the OVC, too, despite my stricter interpretation of the word. If anything, my interactions have shown me just how flexible the word can be.
In terms of personal experience, I can’t say I ventured into the waters unprepared; like many people, I grew up reading about the Vampire Community in books like Rosemary Ellen Guiley’s Vampires Among Us (1991), Carol Page’s Blood Lust: Conversations with Real Vampires (1991), Katherine Ramsland’s Piercing the Darkness: Undercover with Vampires in America Today (1998) and so on. Whether one disputes the accuracy of such books, there was certainly an undercurrent of “political correctness” emerging as the writings piled up and when that filtered in, you started getting a greater degree of societal acceptance. There are many clear parallels with the neo-pagan and gay rights movements in the OVC—hell, identifying as a vampire was often called “coming out of the coffin.”
On the whole, I find the OVC—specifically, my interaction with them—to be pretty engaging. That’s one thing I’ll give ’em credit for: they’re (naturally) very passionate about the subject. But you might also find yourself in a bit of a roller coaster. Despite being apex predators, some can be very sensitive! There’s a reason Lady CG’s Practical Vampyrism for Modern Vampyres (2005) has a chapter on “Vampire Drama”, after all—a great book, by the way. Very insightful. It fleshes out the personal aspect of identifying as a vampire you won’t see emphasised in academia.
The thing I took from my initial readings about the Vampire Community was “What a bunch of delusional Lestat wannabes.” Suffice it to say, my views have shifted. If anything, I welcome a greater sociological understanding and commend the efforts of groups like the Atlanta Vampire Alliance, who’ve emphasised serious research into the community. There should be more of that. It’s also great to see scholars like Joseph Laycock tackle the subject, too. People like that are among the best friends the community has.
The Vampire Community isn’t going away, after all. It’s not a fad. If anything, it’s become more organised and blossoming into something like a civil rights movement—a major shift from the isolated examples covered by sociological pioneers like Stephen Kaplan from the 1970s onward.
On April 30, 2014, you published one of my favorite articles on your Vampirologist WordPress blog titled “My Number One Fan.” You thoroughly explain your involvement with an obsessive Sean Manchester from the famous Highgate Vampire case that originated back in 1969 and how he has a blog called Hoggwatch dedicated to you. I know you have also had personal interactions with David Farrant, the other main character from the case, who seems just as off his rocker. To set the tone for our readers here are two quotes.
In your article you quote Sean Manchesters’ blog, “Hoggwatch was initially set up to monitor this troll’s libellous and malicious allegations about Bishop Seán Manchester in order to amass evidence with view to aiding an eventual prosecution. It came to be suspected by a growing number of people, that Hogg might possibly be suffering from Asperger Syndrome which is characterised by qualitative impairment in social interaction, by stereotyped and restricted patterns of behaviour, activities and interests; and by an intense preoccupation with a narrow subject, plus one-sided verbosity. Consequently, Bishop Manchester has requested that Hogg henceforward be ignored and not be provided with any stimuli which might further trigger him.”
After my own frustrated attempt at a discussion with David in a Facebook conversation thread from the group The Highgate Vampire Chronicles- A factual movie I once stated, “It is nice to see that a bunch of adults cannot seem to play nice together in the sandbox, even though most characters involved seem quite passionate about the topic. Trying to get concrete answers from David regarding my precise questions appears to be virtually impossible as he floods his responses with ambiguity while trying to discredit Anthony’s accurate analysis and supporting statements.”
Can you explain why these two main characters in this narrative are so hell bent on throwing you under the bus for exhibiting exceptional investigative journalism skills that could be used as an asset in the case as opposed to being looked upon as sabotaging? If you were able to sit down like adults in with them in a room what you say to Sean Manchester and David Farrant?
Well, I’ll preface my response by saying that my interest in the Highgate Vampire case began early on—soon after my initial interest in vampires, because I’d find the case covered in books like Elwood D. Baumann’s Vampires (1977), J. Gordon Melton’s The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead (1994) and so on. It was a modern-day Dracula fable, but presented as a true story. Who could resist? Many years after that, I found Sean Manchester’s online forum, The Cross and the Stake, which I joined in 2002 and regularly contributed to. I chose “The Inquisitive One” as my username, because I’m a curious soul and wanted to protect my privacy. Mind you, I didn’t really believe his claim about hunting vampires, but I did admire his views and what I thought was his sincere Christian belief in the supernatural.
What I started noticing was a clear “us vs. them” mentality going on, a form of tribalism, with Manchester as the saint and David Farrant (redundantly referred to as “D—- F——“) as the bad guy; a liar, a publicity hound and the like. Indeed, his name was censored to deprive him of “publicity”; a strange rationale considering it was not only obvious who was being spoken about, but how often he was spoken about in the first place. It was easy to get swept away in those character assassinations—not that they were totally without merit, mind you, as I would find out on my own.
The turning point, however, was the inter-forum “discussions” that took place in 2006. The forum’s moderators started quoting members from Farrant’s own forum, Vampire Talk, and responding to them on The Cross and the Stake, but omitting direct links to their comments. So, to get a clearer I idea what was being said, I Googled their responses, found their forum and responded to them on The Cross and the Stake, too. Eventually, the mods set up a poll to determine the future of the discussions. Despite a very low visible turn-out, it was voted to shut down the inter-forum discussion threads. Thing is, I didn’t want them to stop. So, I went off and created my own forum and invited both sides to contribute. There’s always two sides to a story, right? And that’s when all hell broke loose.
I found myself locked out of The Cross and the Stake and its associated groups with no explanation. On the same day I established my forum, which I named Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate? after the famous Hampstead & Highgate Express, February 27, 1970 headline, another group emerged—also called Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?. Not only that, but the new username I’d chosen—”The Overseer”—had also been hijacked. It was insane. Meanwhile, Farrant and his associates continued wailing on me on their forum and the mod of The Cross and the Stake joined mine—to make a single post—telling me to delete all references to Sean Manchester on my forum and explained that I’d been banned from The Cross and the Stake for basically giving Farrant a platform. Or something.
None of these things deterred me—if anything, it showed the need for an independent forum. Neutral ground. I’ll confess I didn’t display much overt neutrality at the start, but I certainly wouldn’t have invited both sides to participate if I was only interested in hearing one side. They bit; I bit back.
But my forum, the interactions, the online writings, they all spurred me onto writing more, which is how I began blogging with Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?. That was my first blog—originally an MSN Windows blog which lead to the Blogger blog of the same name after Manchester filed repeated DMCA claims against the original to try and silence me. At the start, I didn’t fully appreciate just how bad the Manchester/Farrant feud actually was or low both sides stoop to vilify their opponents and critics. But I found out soon enough.
Both “sides” have a deeply vested interest in the case, especially as they’ve established their careers and fame off it. But the thing they fear most is asking the right questions. Too much coverage of their case has either been lop-sided or little more than a platform to regurgitate the same stories. But the devil’s in the details and that’s what I focus on. As a result, I’m considered “public enemy no. 1.” As you pointed out, Manchester has a blog dedicated to stalking me, while Farrant has made videos about “Cousin Hoggy”, a porcine caricature from Australia who gets gunned down, or that I don’t ask “genuine questions”—all very childish, petty and disturbed stuff.
They’re intent on throwing me under the bus for two reasons: firstly, I suspect Farrant’s never gotten over my criticisms of him over on Manchester’s forums—over 8 years ago. Or my membership of that forum. Hell, he sometimes even mentions my membership to that group now to suggest bias—but deliberately omits mentioning that I was also banned from those groups, even though he’s fully aware of it each and every time he brings it up. Meanwhile, Manchester tries to paint me as a “Farrantite”, for exposing Manchester’s shenanigans—Hoggwatch is just the tip of a very sick iceberg. Classic smear campaigns and divisive “politics” that taint online discussions.
Despite the “Prince of Darkness” portrayal, Farrant gets off a lot better than Manchester does in these stakes, purely by virtue of not being a total sociopath in the same way Manchester is. Unfortunately, that also means people are less inclined to question Farrant’s own version of events or why he was so deeply involved with Manchester in the first place, because what can I tell you? Human nature makes us do silly things. It’s that side-picking mentality again. That’s why I emphasise the middle way—you don’t need to pick any side. Question the evidence, weigh it up, make up your own mind. But most importantly, be open to differing views.
Now, certainly, my skills would be an asset. The problem for them is, I don’t toe the line. I’m not a mouthpiece for either of them. They know that and they don’t like it. In contrast, take a work like Patsy Langley’s The Highgate Vampire Casebook (2007). It does an ok job debunking Manchester’s vampre story, but Farrant’s own story isn’t questioned. Probably not surprising, considering she was the secretary of his group at the time she wrote it and gets very defensive about people questioning Farrant’s narrative, as podcast broadcaster, Trystan Swale attests.
My own studies have been greatly enhanced by Kevin Demant’s investigations into Manchester and Farrant’s respective narratives. He ran an excellent website called Plan 9 from Highgate Cemetery which certainly helped me view Farrant in a much more sympathetic light—but was too much of a soft touch on him, too. Demant published Farrant’s Highgate Vampire Society magazine, Suspended in Dusk (1998–2000) and Farrant’s awful book, The Vampyre Syndrome (2000), via his Mutiny! Press imprint. This highlights a recurring pattern: Farrant’s friends tend to go easy on him and “protect” him from vicious onslaughts—like direct questions about inconsistencies in his own writings.
A recent example is the falling out I had with my former colleague, Redmond McWilliams, who I co-ran the Highgate Cemetery Vampire Appreciation Society Facebook group with. It was a classic case of “going native.” The group was intended to be independent, but essentially morphed into a Farrant satellite as his friendship with Farrant grew and I found myself expelled under highly dubious circumstances, specifically relating to my friendship with a Farrant critic named Angie Watkins. Indeed, my replacement as admin of the supposedly independent group was Farrant’s common-law wife—and McWilliams’ friend—Della.
Two years of my life, effectively flushed down the toilet. All the work I put into it, promoting the group, encouraging discussions, writing its blurb, asserting its independence, promoting it on my first podcast, bringing in members—hell, even creating the group’s page, which has more “likes” than the group itself. My presence and role in the group has basically been obliterated and unacknowledged. I insisted on keeping the group open so the commentary would be available for scrutiny; it was turned into a closed group shortly after my “departure.” In fact, the group’s vampire angle has even been diluted, thanks to the Farrant’s influence. Might as well change its name.
However, a positive thing emerged from this mess. By being set free from the whims of a biased admin, I could cut out on my own. Focus on my own stuff and my own Facebook group—also called “Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?”—which was established long beforehand, but largely neglected. I could reassert independence and encourage independent and critical thought on the matter once again. For both sides, not just one. And best of all, I had no one to answer to. In a way, it was a blessing in disguise. To be fair, I won’t say it was all bad: the frequent discussions helped refine my thoughts about the case, and McWilliams provided me some excellent resources, including some of Farrant’s books. In other words, it was good while it lasted.
I won’t pretend that all my interaction throughout my dealings with the case has been peachy clean, either. After all, it’s a case steeped in hostility and I make a point about cautioning folk who want to delve into it. I even wrote a PSA! But there’s certainly a strong undercurrent to my work, which basically involves asking questions and seeking answers. My pursuit has always been driven by that—it goes right back to the inter-forum discussions, to establishing my own forum and inviting both sides to participate, it’s always been about that. Then, I write my findings. The thing that hampers that, is the mind games, evasion and smear campaigns both sides revel in.
For instance, it took almost three years to get Farrant to answer a simple question about claims he’d made about supposed Victorian era ghost sightings at Highgate Cemetery. The response, when it finally arrived—they were modern-day rumours—was a massive waste of time. Meanwhile, in Manchester’s case, despite being constantly rumbled using sockpuppet identities to smear me and other people, he still insists on using them and adding more shit to the pile. And he’s supposed to be a Catholic bishop. It’s quite sad.
There’s two rationales for why they do this: one, to protect their “property”—which says a hell of a lot about the credibility of their claims; two, because the overwhelming level of animosity this case has absorbed and expanded—keep in mind, it’s been going on, on and off, for over 40 years—makes rational, calm discussions an almost impossible task. If I was to sit them down in a room, firstly, I’d knock their heads together and say “Snap out of it!” Then, I’d say “I think we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot. For my part, I’m sorry. I genuinely want to know exactly what happened there. Let’s talk.” I’d also encourage them to shake hands, resume their friendship—which I actually tried to do in 2010—and move on from the thing and live the rest of their lives in peace and harmony. And this crap has been going on for literally most of their lives. That’s a terrible waste of time. And life.
That said, it’s great to see the emergence of thorough, non-biased writings about the case emerge, too. No preference is given to a side. I mentioned Trystan Swale before—his online article, “The Highgate Vampire – An Exercise in Deception?” is one of the best things I’ve ever read about the case. So maybe my work hasn’t been in vain, after all.
Vamped.org is your new quest in the vampire world and your article “Official Website Re-Launched“ explains it best, “On January 19, I did something I’ve never done before: I bought a website domain name. I considered it an investment for a project I’ve been working on: a total revamp of my website, vampirologist.com—the one officially launched on October 26, 2013” What motivated you to venture from the world of free blogs into the unfamiliar, having your own site and what is your personal vision for Vamped? Do you feel having a “vampire” themed site for vampire enthusiasts will expand or hinder your vampirologist pursuits and why?
To be honest, I was thrown into the deep end with this thing—but I chose to swim. This website, as you noted, began as Vampirologist.com. Sufi Mohammed, the editor-in-chief of IndieJudge, an online film magazine, approached me with the idea. I was quite reluctant to go along with it, though—but then he went ahead and bought a bloody URL for me to use. I’d wanted a website of my own for a long time, but never really had a serious stab at it. My blogging was free and convenient and by that stage, I didn’t really see the point. But what Sufi saw was potential: he was impressed by the interaction on my Facebook group, “The Vampirologist,” and basically wanted to replicate that as a website.
However, our visions met at a crossroad. I didn’t want to merely convert my Facebook group into a website, it needed to be different. Unique. Even the name, itself, denoted an academic thrust which certainly didn’t pan out with the early contributions (barring Paula-Maree Cavenett’s article, to some extent). Indeed, I already have my WordPress blog, The Vampirologist, so it didn’t make sense to me to shift that onto a website if I already basically had one. I certainly wasn’t going to shut that down. So, overtime, I began to drift away at the site, but at the same time, I didn’t want to let Sufi down.
Soon enough, the site’s flavour began to develop and I began to develop a vision for it. I didn’t want it to be an academic site, I wanted it to have a general readership—which is what my Facebook group’s for, anyway. The site I looked to most for inspiration is actually one of my favourites and not about vampires: Cracked.com. Sufi was gunning for something powered by social media, whereas I was driven by articles. Why else have a website if there was a social media presence elsewhere, after all. I wanted the site to be more personal, more general and diverse, more open, yet still having an “edge.” That’s a journey the website’s still taking and will always take.
But to facilitate this change, I needed to make a case for it, it needed a total overhaul, which included a name change—especially with the financial and personal investment Sufi had put into the site. He commissioned me to write a work brief and you were—and still are—a massive help. Your marketing background was invaluable. He was great, too—and it was even his idea to call it Vamped, too, as we needed something with a bit more “pop.” It took me a little while to warm up to, but now I love it.
My vision for Vamped is hard to quantify, but a few concepts spring to mind. I want it to be a “one stop vampire shop.” That will be reflected in the diversity of its contents. I want it to host interesting articles. Unique, user-driven stuff. Everyone’s got a story. If I was to do the Hollywood boardroom thing, I’d call my vision a fusion of that’s life!, Thought Catalog, BuzzFeed and, of course, Cracked.com, to name a few. The site can only hinder my pursuits if I let it.
As it stands, I enjoy it. I’m not in it simply to make money (though that’d be nice!), I’m more interested in providing an outlet for myself and for others—in that sense, transferring the “spirit” of my Facebook group into this website. I’ll confess though, that it does take up a lot of my time, but the time management burden falls on me, not the site. Will it help my pursuits? Possibly. That depends on the stories. I’m certainly liking the “investigative journalism” type stuff you’ve shared, like your articles on the Chinese vampire café (this one and this one) and the one about the bloke with the crossbow. I’d love to see more of that.
That said, I love the “fluff” too. I love that we cover music, iPhone and Android apps, vampire cocktails, video game reviews, all that. I’m looking forward to more. This is a site for people who enjoy vampires and it also highlights that vampires are absolutely everywhere. The pop culture side is fun. Keep in mind the main reason I got into vampires in the first place, was because of a movie.
My blog is more about serious stuff, more specialised, I guess, but this is where I let my hair down and it’s for everyone. It’s in my roots, it’s in yours and it’s in everyone who reads it. Doesn’t mean we don’t get serious here, too—so there’s a wonderful balance going on. Both are valid, worthy outlets for vampire enthusiasm. Two sides of the same coin. It’s a site for everyone.
With a new website under your belt now what else do you have up your sleeve?
Ah, now that’s a secret. I don’t tend to make public proclamations about something, unless I’m definitely, 100% gonna do it, so I’ll just say I have a few ideas up my sleeve and if they ever bear fruit, they’ll be covered on my blog. If I do get around to them—if I have the time, will, inclination and resources—then they’ll be real game-changers, more in line with my vampirological pursuits. So I guess I’ll just say, “watch this space.”
What I can tell you, though, is that this site will soon be undergoing a major overhaul. Sooner rather than later. I think our readers, members and anyone else who stumbles on the site will be suitably impressed by the changes we’ve got in store.
Recently, my friend, Amelia Mah, encouraged me to enrol in a course on vampirism, as I’ve never studies the subject in a formalised educational capacity; I’m self-taught. So, shortly after that discussion, I decided to join Bertena Varney’s online class, “Introduction to Vampires”, run through the Mystical Paranormal Academy. I’m just waiting for her course book, Lure of the Vampire, to arrive in the mail as the touchstone toward commencing study. I know it’s gonna be very easy for me—Bertena, herself, told me that—but I’m looking forward to earning my certificate all the same.
I’ve also been trying to get back into my vampire readings again. I’ve always got several books on the boil, which is why I rarely take requests. After all, it’s easy to get rusty if you don’t refresh yourself.