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by David Farrant

The Black History of Highgate

The following article first appeared in The Islington Gazette on September 29th 1972.

AMONG THE MANY LEGENDS that surround Old Highgate and Hampstead, there is an old belief that if Whittington’s Stone is ever removed (from the original spot where Dick Whittington “turned once more” toward London) or if any harm should befall it, great change and disaster will fall upon the neighbouring area.

Of course, this myth is probably based upon the fact that the Stone is one of Highgate’s oldest landmarks, and therefore, it would naturally be bad luck to remove it, but if the present mania for redevelopment continues, this old assumption could well prove to be correct.
For already the giant bulldozers have left their ugly mark on much of Archway and are now advancing up the Archway Road, and it seems inevitable that Highgate, too, is destined to suffer at the unmerciful hands of progress.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect is that Highgate, one of the oldest and least unspoiled parts of London, will lose not only its status, but also a great deal of its character.
For when an environment is destroyed the legends and myths associated with it are also affected. And throughout its history, Highgate has been linked with superstition and legends, many of which pertain to a supernatural origin.


Most of these legends have survived from the days when Highgate served as an important relay point for coaches on the Great North Road, and it was this era that gave birth to the many and assorted tales of the highwayman and also witnessed the great revival in occultism.
But a much “blacker” part of Highgate’s history were the events of 1665, when it was used as a mass burial ground for the victims of the Great Plague. They were brought by the cart-load from London and buried in deep lime-filled pits in the place which is now Queens Wood.

To go back even further there is now sufficient evidence (following recent excavations in Highgate Wood) to be certain that Highgate was once the site of a large Roman community. And as the Romans tended to improve and develop already existing settlements rather than starting from scratch, it was probably inhabited by pre-Druid races long before that.

Whether or not the present day planners will follow the Roman example to improve only where necessary is debatable, although it seems more likely that the speed and convenience of the motor car will take precedence over preserving sentimentality.  And while Highgate waits patiently to await its impending doom, nearby fashionable Hampstead enjoys a slightly longer lease of life.

Hampstead, with its many trends, also has its share of legends. The most famous of these is undoubtedly the “Headless Horseman” who rides noiselessly across a moonlit Heath. Reputed to be the ghost of Dick Turpin, this eerie figure and his horse can be seen galloping past the Spaniards’ Inn and Jack Straw’s Castle – presumably in the same vicinity where he waylaid stage coaches so long ago.

The countless reports of desecration in Highgate Cemetery have also caused much concern lately. Although the cemetery has been used occasionally for the purpose of conducting ceremonies, it has now become a haven for the black magician who requires ancient relics for use in his rituals. These vary according to the purpose for which they are needed. Coffin handles and ornaments are the most common target, but sometimes cremation urns or even skulls are removed.

No doubt numerous incidents where coffins have been smashed open or gravestones knocked over can be attributed just to sheer vandalism; but the planned and precise method employed in other cases in obtaining these relics seems to imply that here the purpose is of a more sinister nature. Also, the fact that the valuable lead inside the coffins is always left untouched, rules out plunder or theft as a motive.

It is hardly surprising that the public feeling which has arisen as a result of these occurrences has been one of anger and indignation.  Yet, indirectly, it is the public themselves who have helped to exaggerate the fearful image that prevails about magic – both black and white. Though in the case of black magic this image is undoubtedly well deserved, it is only too often that the actions of the white witches are being confused with the continuing practices of Satanic cults.

As a result of this misinterpretation, fact has become mingled with fantasy, and magic, witchcraft and supernatural phenomena have become so entangled together that only an expert could distinguish between them.  As with most aspects involved in ritual magic, perhaps the one which is least understood is the use of sex in many of the rituals.

However, before it is possible to understand this, it must be realised that such sexual activity is of a highly organised form, and not – as is so often imagined – merely an excuse for promiscuity or what the public would like to think is a mass orgy. There can be no doubt, however, that the association of sex with magic has presented a perfect opportunity for would-be participants to satisfy their own personal desires under the guise of a magical ceremony.  Sometimes sex is included only in symbolic form. Yet apart from the varying degrees in which it is used, sexual practice plays a vital part in the magical mysteries, and although some groups strongly protest and deny that sex is ever used in their ceremonies, the origin of sex in ritual dates back too far to be dismissed as a fabrication.

DECEITFUL – ‘Menace of Satanism is very real indeed.’

Perhaps the most disturbing feature is the way the relatively harmless rites of white magic are assumed to be one and the same as the more sinister and diabolic rites of the Black Mass. For although these may appear similar in the overall effect, they are as far apart as the “good” and “evil” which they themselves represent.

As with everything else practiced in the Black Mass, sex is included only to be abused. More serious still is the way their “devilish doctrines” spread amongst the innocent members of the community, frightening and misleading the gullible and corrupting the weak-minded.
For Satanism, too, has its priests and its adherents, but unlike Christianity, they proclaim their belief in a deceitful way. And it is not always obvious. Perhaps the Bible sums this up best when it says: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5 verse 8).

Cases of Satanic corruption are by no means rare, and frequently priests or leading exorcists of the church are called upon to cast out the devils that have possessed some unfortunate person, the most common way being for the priest to place his hands upon the head of the sufferer, recite the appropriate prayers and command the evil spirit to take leave of its victim.  Sometimes, however, it will be too late, and the only reward to face would-be repenters is to “reap their rewards from the seeds they have sown” – or possible confinement in a mental institution.

Ironically, it is the young, with their tendency to think they are invulnerable, who are the most prone to the evil influences of Satanism. The tragic thing is that many young people, attracted by sexual promise or a dare-devil instinct, are quite unaware of the hidden dangers. Consequently they dabble on the surface and are soon dragged down to become hopelessly entangled in a web of corruption from which there is virtually no escape.  Yet surprisingly enough, the majority of the general public still live in complete ignorance of this dangerous religion, and know nothing more about it than the lurid descriptions they have read either in the press of paperback horror stories. Unfortunately, while the press does its best to relate the more sensational aspects of black magic, the relevant more frightening aspects remain unpublished.

Witchcraft, nevertheless, prevails; and in spite of the charlatans who merely make use of its commercial aspects, the numbers of its true believers are increasing rapidly. For beneath the paraphernalia that engulfs modern witchcraft, there lies a deep inner meaning and purpose which no charlatan could possibly hope to understand.


And while this is true of white magic, it is equally applicable to black. Admittedly, its motivations are of a different nature, but black magic too has its inner teachings, however warped or sacrilegious they may be.  So before we dismiss the belief in black magic as sheer fantasy which only takes place in a Dennis Wheatley novel, perhaps it would be as well to remember that the Christian Church herself accepts the extent of its widespread existence, and warns us accordingly – as a part of her doctrine – of the imminent dangers of becoming involved.

The reason for this intervention by the Church where black magic is concerned is not without foundation, and her subsequent warning is applicable to everyone – whatever their beliefs.

Yet perhaps the real problem that arises from the existence of black magic is the minority of people who, although they possess no real knowledge of Satanism, adapt its fundamental beliefs to suit their own ideals. Thus it is the hoaxers and the dabblers, who continue to scratch the surface of black magic and use its connotations superficially to gain publicity or for commercial gain, who are serving to conceal its real menace. And that menace is a very real menace indeed. END

© David Farrant


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1946 - 2019




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