Saturday, 29 November 2014

Peter Underwood R.I.P.


Peter Underwood R.I.P. 

(16 May 1923 – 26 November 2014)



The Last Journey ...

Seán Manchester's obituary for Peter Underwood


Peter Underwood was born in Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire, lived for much of his life in a small Hampshire village, and finally resided in Surrey. President of The Ghost Club since 1960, and a long-standing member of the Society of Psychical Research, Peter first entered the Vampire Research Society in 1973, having established a lively correspondence with myself wherein his support was unequivocal.

His colleague, Tom Perrott, had already invited me to address members of The Ghost Club in London. On 16 March 1973, Peter added: “We have a number of members who are deeply interested in the subject of vampires and I feel sure you would find our members kindly, sympathetic and friendly. I knew Montague Summers and members of The Ghost Club include Eric Maple and Robert Aickman who has written some excellent vampire stories. I hope that we may meet one day.”  In 1974, Peter took part in Daniel Farson’s television documentary on the subject of vampires and vampirism.

Peter kindly made me a Life-Member of The Ghost Club, whilst he, along with life-membership, was to become a Fellow Associate of the Vampire Research Society. Peter was already a member of the British Occult Society, an organisation that investigated the paranormal and occult phenomena, which was formally dissolved on 8 August 1988. The following year witnessed my collaboration with Peter on an anthology that would include the first published account of events in the early days of the Highgate Vampire case. On 14 October 1974, Peter wrote: “I am pleased to be able to advise you that I have now passed the proofs and I am very pleased with the way the book has turned out. It will be entitled The Vampire’s Bedside Companion and is due for publication early in 1975 [by Leslie Frewin Books].”

On 25 July 1975, Peter wrote: “As you know, I possess a medallion, given to me by Montague Summers, that is reputed to have power over vampires. … I am just wondering whether you happen to know of a current vampire infestation where [the medallion] might be tried [and tested]?”

The Highgate Vampire had been exorcised a year and a half earlier, but there were other vampires awaiting discovery. Thus began a comradeship in the field of vampirology that would endure to the sad news this month of my dear friend's death. On 15 December 1985, I was invited to give a piano recital of my own compositions on the occasion of Peter’s quarter of a century service as president of the The Ghost Club, at Berkeley Square, London. Other well-wishers included Dennis Wheatley, Vincent Price, Patrick Moore, Michael Bentine, Sir Alec Guiness and Dame Barbara Cartland — all of whom have now sadly passed on.

In 1990, Peter Underwood retold the events of the Highgate Vampire case (up to the first discovery of the undead tomb in Highgate Cemetery) in his book Exorcism! He commented in chapter six: “The Hon Ralph Shirley told me in the 1940s that he had studied the subject in some depth, sifted through the evidence and concluded that vampirism was by no means as dead as many people supposed; more likely, he thought, the facts were concealed. … My old friend Montague Summers has, to his own satisfaction, at least, traced back ‘the dark tradition of the vampire’ until it is ‘lost amid the ages of a dateless antiquity’.”

In his earlier book, containing the chapter with photographic evidence from the archive of the Vampire Research Society, written and contributed with Peter's encouragement by myself, he wrote: “Alleged sightings of a vampire-like creature — a grey spectre — lurking among the graves and tombstones have resulted in many vampire hunts. … In 1968, I heard first-hand evidence of such a sighting and my informant maintained that he and his companion had secreted themselves in one of the vaults and watched a dark figure flit among the catacombs and disappear into a huge vault from which the vampire … did not reappear. Subsequent search revealed no trace inside the vault but I was told that a trail of drops of blood stopped at an area of massive coffins which could have hidden a dozen vampires.”

And so our history in this arcane field progressed. We corresponded regularly and I was invited on various occasions to become involved in various projects. What struck me always was Peter's dedication to his work and loyalty to me. He wrote a Foreword to my novel Carmel at the turn of the century which included these words: "Memories crowded in: [the author's] commanding lectures and television appearances; his ready and valuable co-operation in literary labours of love; his admiration of mutual friends such as Montague Summers, Dennis Wheatley and Devendra P Varma; his dealing with not always complimentary publicity; his piano playing and musical compositions; his abiding interest in unearthly subjects and his enduring publications  the list goes on and on."

Such was the generosity of spirit incumbent in Peter Underwood who ended his introduction to this author with the following:

"And as the shadows lengthen ... I often think, in the words he sometimes used to close his letters: 'Until we meet again ...' "

Peter's first and last acts in our long friendship was to offer me his unconditional support. And he knew I always offered mine. There were times after the death in 2003 of his wife, Joyce (whom I had met in the previous century and he had married on the day I was born), when Peter reached out to me in the full knowledge I would console, counsel and completely support him where others might have been less willing because of what transpired in the aftermath regarding his personal life. Such friendship, trust and loyalty between two people is rare in today's modern world, and we each recognised, understood and valued what comprised an archetypal English gentleman. Peter, indeed, was quintessentially an English gentleman. That is how I shall always remember him. Well-attired, upright, kind, considerate, polite and punctilious. A lovely, lovely man.

I have lost one of my closest colleagues and beloved friends. My condolences are extended to Peter's family, friends and colleagues. When he parted company with The Ghost Club in 1993 and formed the Ghost Club Society, one of the first things he did was to make me an honorary life-member.

Thank you for everything, Peter. I shall for ever hold you in my thoughts and prayers.

Until we meet again ...  

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Last Mass Vampire Hunt in England

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The night of Friday 13 March 1970 witnessed in England the largest vampire hunt of the twentieth century by members of the public. It bordered on hysteria and led to local police having their leave cancelled to contain it. Just how many were involved would be difficult to estimate, but certainly hundreds. In the preceding weeks, the Hampstead & Highgate Express (a local newspaper) told of unearthly goings-on at Highgate Cemetery. Its February 27th issue ran the headline "Does A Wampyr Walk in Highgate?" The front-page headline of the following fateful week's edition told of the matter being discussed on television that very evening by Seán Manchester who recounts the event in his bestselling book The Highgate Vampire:
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"... attempts to shoot the interview by the north gate were abandoned and the actual filming took place outside the main gate further down Swains Lane. Some independent witnessed, including several children who had seen a ghostly manifestation, were also interviewed for the programme. One person said: ' Yes, I did feel it was evil because the last time I actually saw its face and it looked like it had been dead for a long time.' Another witness commented: 'It seemed to float along the ground.' One of those interviewed who claimed to have seen the vampire was a certain David Farrant, a pathetic figure whose infatuation with the Highgate haunting was to earn him an undeserved notoriety and send him on a helter-skelter into the abyss of the dark occult. The programme was transmitted at 6.00pm on Friday 13 March 1970: the eve of the proposed vampire hunt. Eamonn Andrews introduced the viewing audience to a report on the Highgate Vampire. Within two hours Highgate was the scene of utter pandemonium as crowds of onlookers flocked to Swains Lane. The number multiplied as the evening progressed. Police on foot and in cars were unable to control the swarming mass of those who had arrived to witness the discovery of a modern-day vampire infestation in their midst. And its eradication! While chaos and frenzy continued to erupt in Swains Lane, a group of hand-picked researchers led by myself, constituting the official vampire hunt, made their way to the catacombs in the inky darkness of the cemetery." ― Seán Manchester (The Highgate Vampire, pp. 76-77). 


What followed would confirm the investigating hunters' worst fears.


Yet people still ask the question ...

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Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Does A Wampyr Still Walk In Highgate?

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The demonic presence in corporeal form (at first known locally and eventually worldwide as the Highgate Vampire) was successfully exorcised in early 1974. While accepting there have been anomalous sightings of apparition-like phenomena down the decades for generations - certainly as far back as Victorian times - none of these in recent years are remotely similar to sightings of what became known as the Highgate Vampire four and a half decades ago. Unfortunately, all the recent claims to a ghostly presence wafting about in the vicinity of the graveyard stem either directly or indirectly from a hoaxer who contacts his local newspapers regularly to such an end when not winding up naïve, local paranormal groups in the area comprising people not even born when events occurred in the 1960s and turn of the 1970s, who are clearly in awe of anything which might connect tangentially to the original case.

The Vampire Research Society would not dismiss the possibility of other manifestations elsewhere having a demonic/vampiric source, but no convincing evidence of the same phenomenon as before returning to Highgate Cemetery or indeed its environs has been provided by anyone.

The answer, therefore, to the question as to whether a wampyr still walks in Highgate is a resounding no.
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Source: Seán Manchester



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Does A Wampyr Walk In Highgate?

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"On Friday, 27 February 1970, the front page headline of the Hampstead and Highgate Express asked does a vampire walk in Highgate? There would be no going back. The die had been cast." (Seán Manchester, The Highgate Vampire, Gothic Press, p. 70)
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The banner headline "Does a wampyr walk in Highgate?" appeared across the front page of Hampstead and Highgate's most prestigious newspaper in February 1970. The editor himself had written the piece after meeting privately with the president of the British Occult Society and founder of the then fledgling Vampire Research Society. He allowed himself to get slightly carried away by introducing the journalistic embellishment "King Vampire of the Undead" - a term that Seán Manchester did not employ, as stated by him on page 72 of The Vampire Hunter's Handbook, but what else did the editor get wrong that day? Apparently more than you might imagine!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

6. Mysterious Monsters (Aldus Books, 1978) by Daniel Farson and Angus Hall.
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Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Metamorphosis

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Metamorphosis

by Seán Manchester

 
It is not correct, in my experience, to understand that the corporeal form "never leaves its resting place," though I am aware of this theory being postulated by some. It can indeed stray beyond its earthly confines and might even do so by way of metamorphosis. Salt, a substance used in Christian ceremonial for the blessing of holy water and much else besides when attempting to present a barrier to demonic intrusion, can be applied around the afflicted area to deter this from happening, but other items ought to be included, eg holy water, white candles, silver crucifixes and, most powerful of all, the Host (the Body of God).


The corporeal form, through its demonic agency, does have the supernatural ability to dematerialise and rematerialise outside the parameters of its tomb. This is extended to all manner of metamorphosis, as described in my book. So it can "assume other likenesses," and retain more than just the spectral appearance of an apparition when it returns to the corporeal from something else, whatever that something else might be.
 
 
Due to the words I uttered during a lengthy evocation and exorcism ceremony at the Great Northern London Cemetery some three decades ago, the vampire took the form of what I at first thought to be "a misty vapour stealing towards me." The ritual continued for almost an hour before "an uncanny change" in my environment occurred that led to "the outline of a figure on the grave before me." Whether or not it was metamorphosing into what I was about to behold, the next manifestation was indeed a diabolical abomination "the size of a large cat" which "scurried back and forth in the most terrifying manner around the perimeter" of salt interspersed with cups of holy water. This form was impaled as the exorcism reached its climax. It straight away began to metamorphosise back to a corporeal state, albeit now God's true dead, requiring reinterrment and the prayers for the dead. The formula I used is found in the pre-Vatican II Rituali Romano. 


I thoroughly recommend the works of Montague Summers; particularly The Vampire: His Kith & Kin and The Vampire in Europe. There will be much found within these volumes to satisfy most people's curiousity. My own The Vampire Hunter's Handbook contains sections on antidotes and exorcisms, exhuming and invoking, tradition and blood lust. This, too, might prove helpful and go some way to addressing the nature of deterrents.

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Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Identifying the Highgate Vampire

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The identity of the Highgate Vampire is dealt with on pages 50-51 of the Gothic Press edition of The Highgate Vampire book.

The text speaks of "a mysterious nobleman from the Continent who arrived in the wake of the vampire epidemic which had its origins in south-east Europe."

The conjecture that he might be Eastern European is therefore most probable.


Above is a circa 1870s photograph of the Russian immigrant known variously as Mikhail Oleg Ostrog, Bertrand Ashley, Claude Clayton (Cayton), Dr Grant, Max Grief Gosslar, Ashley Nabokoff, Orloff, Count Sobieski, Max Sobiekski etc, possibly from the Kiev region of Russia, but by no means a nobleman, who settled in the East End area of London in the 1860s. His name has been put forward by some searching for the identity of the Highgate Vampire. It is rumoured without any clear evidence that Mikhail Ostrog moved to the Highgate area of London in the 1890s, but there is no mention made of him after 1904. Mikhail Ostrog was under investigation by the Russian authorites for what we would describe today as a series of vampiric murders. Mikhail Ostrog was also investigated by the fledgling Metropolitan Police service over a series of murders that bore all the hallmarks of vampiric attack in the Greater London Area. Mikhail Ostrog was introduced to the public in Donald McCormick's The Identity of Jack the Ripper (1962). From that time little was known until recent research by D S Goffee revealed a wealth of information on his criminal career. This information was published in the October 1994 issue of Ripperana, "The Search for Michael Ostrog." Phil Sugden also covers him as a suspect in The Complete History of Jack the Ripper (1995). Numerous people have drawn a comparison between the Highgate Vampire and "Jack the Ripper" in the past, which, while worthy of investigation, simply does not pan out.


Physical Description of Mikhail Oleg Ostrog:

Five foot, eleven inches in height.

Dark brown hair.

Grey eyes.

Often dressed in a "semi-clerical" suit.

Had a scar on right thumb and right shin

Had numerous flogging marks on his back.

Two large moles on right shoulder, one on the back of his neck.

Described as a Russian, Russian Pole, and a Polish Jew at various times.
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The name Tamás Ország was presented as a much more likely candidate by those researching the matter in the previous century. The similarity between the surnames Ország and Ostrog is striking, but Ország originated from Hungary, not Russia, and I personally remain unconvinced that Mikhail Ostrog is a potential candidate. The identity, history and origin of the Highgate Vampire is considerably more intriguing and mysterious than a common criminal and homicidal maniac who some have tried to link to the "Ripper" murders.


The last moments, some of which were captured by a 35mm camera, reveal the same "burning, fierce eyes beneath black furrowed brows staring with hellish reflection. Yellow at the edges with blood-red centres, unlike anything imaginable. Flared nostrils connected to a thin, high-bridged nose. The mouth still set in its cruel expression with lips drawn far back as if unable to contain the sharp, white teeth." (The Highgate Vampire, pages 85, 86 & 142.)

A vampire is generally described as being exceedingly gaunt and lean with a hideous countenance and eyes wherein are glinting the red fire of perdition. When, however, he has satiated his lust for warm human blood his body becomes horribly puffed and bloated, as though he were some great leech gorged and replete to bursting. Cold as ice, or it may be fevered and burning as a hot coal, the skin is deathly pale, but the lips are very full and rich, blub and red; the teeth white and gleaming, and the canine teeth wherewith he bites deep into the neck of his prey to suck thence the vital streams which re-animate his body and invigorate all his forces appear notably sharp and pointed. Often his mouth curls back in a vulpine snarl which bares these fangs, "a gaping mouth and gleaming teeth," says Leone Allacci, and so in many districts the hare-lipped are avoided as being certainly vampires. In Bulgaria, it is thought that the vampire who returns from the tomb has only one nostril; and in certain districts of Poland he is supposed to have a sharp point at the end of his tongue, like the sting of a bee. It is said that the palms of a vampire's hands are downy with hair, and the nails are always curved and crooked, often well-nigh the length of a great bird's claw, the quicks dirty and foul with clots and gouts of black blood. His breath is unbearably fetid and rank with corruption, the stench of the charnel. Dr Henry More in his An Antidote against Atheism, III, ix, tells us that when Johannes Cuntius, an alderman of Pentsch in Silesia and a witch returned as a vampire he much tormented the Parson of the Parish. One evening, "when this Theologer was sitting with his wife and Children about him, exercising himself in Musick, according to his usual manner, a most grievous stink arose suddenly, which by degrees spread itself to every corner of the room. Here upon he commends himself and his family to God by Prayer. The smell nevertheless encreased, and became above all measure pestilently noisom, insomuch that he was forced to go up to his chamber. He and his Wife had not been in bed a quarter of an hour, but they find the same stink in the bedchamber; of which, while they are complaining one to another out steps the Spectre from the Wall, and creeping to his bedside, breathes upon him an exceeding cold breath, of so intolerable stinking and malignant a scent, as is beyond all imagination and expression. Here upon the Theologer, good soul, grew very ill, and was fain to keep his bed, his face, belly, and guts swelling as if he had been poysoned; whence he was also troubled with a difficulty of breathing, and with a putrid inflamation of his eyes, so that he could not well use them of a long time after."

The vampire is one who has led a life of more than ordinary immorality and unbridled wickedness; a man of foul, gross and selfish passions, of evil ambitions, delighting in cruelty and blood. Arthur Machen has very shrewdly pointed out that "Sorcery and sanctity are the only realities. Each is an ecstasy, a withdrawal from the common life." The spiritual world cannot be confined to the supremely good, "but the supremely wicked, necessarily, have their portion in it. The ordinary man can no more be a great sinner than he can be a great saint. Most of us are just indifferent, mixed-up creatures; we muddle through the world without realizing the meaning and the inner sense of things, and, consequently our wickedness and our goodness are alike second-rate unimportant . . . the saint endeavours to recover a gift which he has lost; the sinner tries to obtain something which was never his. In brief, he repeats the Fall . . . it is not the mere liar who is excluded by those words; it is, above all, the 'sorcerers' who use the material life, who use the failings incidental to material life as instruments to obtain their infinitely wicked ends. And let me tell you this; our higher senses are so blunted, we are so drenched with materialism, that we should probably fail to recognize real wickedness if we encountered it.)"

It has been said that a saint is a person who always chooses the better of the two courses open to him at every step. And so the man who is truly wicked is he who deliberately always chooses the worse of the two courses. Even when he does things which would be considered right he always does them for some bad reason. To identify oneself in this way with any given course requires intense concentration and an iron strength of will, and it is such persons who become vampires.

The vampire is believed to be one who has devoted himself during his life to the practice of black magic, and it is hardly to be supposed that such persons would rest undisturbed, while it is easy to believe that their malevolence had set in action forces which might prove powerful for terror and destruction even when they were in their graves. It was sometimes said, but the belief is rare, that the vampire was the offspring of a witch and the Devil.


Sources:

Seán Manchester (The Highgate Vampire)

Montague Summers (The Vampire: His Kith & Kin)

http://www.casebook.org/suspects/ostrog.html
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