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An Interview With Theresa Cheung


Following my recent review of The Element Encyclopedia of Vampires by Theresa Cheung, I decided to put a few questions to the author and gain an insight into what attracts her to Vampire mythology.

Theresa, What is your background and how did you come to write the book?

I've been researching and writing about the paranormal for over two decades now. It's a subject that fascinates me, and always ever since I read my first Anne Rice novel in my teens. I've already written two element encyclopaedias - one on dreams and one on the psychic world - and both were very well received so another encyclopedia was on the cards. I'd actually suggested a vampire encyclopedia for the series several years earlier but there was hesitation from my publishers about whether there might be interest from readers so the project was shelved. Then when the Twilight novels became huge best-sellers it was only a matter of time before an up to date vampire encyclopedia became an essential part of the element encyclopaedia series. I couldn't have been happier when I was told that vampire artwork was going to be supplied by Andy Paciorek: his gothic and compelling drawings really make the book special.

What first attracted you to Vampire research/lore?

It was when I was writing my psychic world encyclopeida a few years back now and compiling the entry for vampires that I fully realised what a huge subject it was and how much it deserved a 400,000 word study of its own. There were a couple of great encyclopedias written in the late 90s but nothing bang up to date.

Did you discover anything in you research for the book that surprised you?

Yes, I could go on for hours about how much I discovered that surprised me - that's the fascinating thing about vampires they are impossible to pin down and will always spring surprise after surprise. I guess what surprised me most, though was my investigation on the modern vampire scene. There are a lot of people out there who not only believe vampires are real but that they themselves might be vampires, and these people aren't scarey, mad or bad. Many that I spoke to were highly intelligent and sensitive and fascinating to talk to.

Here’s an obvious one: do you believe in Vampires?

I believe that within each one of us there is an aspect of our personality that is vampiric and I cover this extensively in the book. There are both positive and negative elements in the vampire within us, perhaps you could call it a vampire archetype. Negative in that it can sap the life out of us and other people we associate with but positive in that it offers us the possibly of transformation, of uncovering the truth about ourselves - a reality that is both terrifying and inspiring at the same time.

Obviously a lead on from the last question but, with such a widespread tradition, do you think there could be any truth in stories about Vampires?

There has to be. There are just too many stories and unsolved cases to suggest that there might be such a thing as real vampires, although they may not emerge in the guise most of us expect.

Where do you think Vampire legends and lore originated and why do we find it so fascinating?

There are several schools of thought about where the vampire myths originated - some people believe it was in Eastern Europe but other experts have suggested China, Africa, Egypt and several other locations. Part of the problem in pin pointing the exact place is that there seem to be vampiric stories in almost every culture. We find the legends so fascinating because the vampire legend embodies so many aspects related to the human condition - death, desire, control, sex, intimacy, violence, romance, mystery and the feeling of being an outsider or not fitting in which I guess everyone can relate to at some time in their life. Above all, though, vampires are fascinating and erotic because they embody or symbolise a need within us for an intense affirmation of life, suggesting perhaps that our desire for knowledge, mystery, excitement and intimacy may be far stronger than our fear of evil, death and the unknown..

What is your favourite Vampire story/legend?

This is very tough. When I was writing the book I had to be constantly reminded that I had a deadline to complete each entry because every one was just so fascinating and in many cases could have been a book in itself. An obvious choice would, of course, be the stories and legends surrounding Vlad the Impaler and Elizabeth Bathory but I was equally fascinated by less well known but equally chilling cases such as the Liebava vampire, the Berwick Vampire, and so on - and what really made my spine tingle was the most recent and unsolved vampire sightings and reports, those within the last five years.

Do you think the way that film and television portrays the myth to be detrimental in any way?

I know a lot of vampire purists would think this is the case but in my opinion any representation of the vampire is enligtening because it reflects how writers, film makers and society perceive the vampire to be at that moment in time. There is no definitive way to present a vampire because as I say time and time again in the book the vampire is a shape shifter. He (or she) will take the shape of the fears and anxieties of the vessel he or she is poured in because they are impossible to define or pin down.

I know you mention it in the book, but one of Britain’s most famous ‘cases’ is the Highgate Vampire which is highly controversial. What are your views about the story?

From studying it for the book it became obvious to me that the existence of the Highgate vampire remains unproven and that celebrated accounts written about it by both Sean Manchester and David Farrant were subjective and very possibly flawed. Having said this the case has to remain open because there were a series of unexplained events that have to date not been explained. I guess what I'm saying here is that I'm keeping an open mind.

What projects have you got planned in the future?
I'm swinging to the other side of the force - and working on my angel books. When people ask me how I cam write about vampires and then angels I tell them that I like to see both sides of the coin. There are after all, angels of darkness.

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Ian Topham
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Re: An Interview With Theresa Cheung

Any account written by those investigating the supernatural will be "subjective." How could it be otherwise? It is not good enough to claim that an account is "flawed" without actually explaining what the flaws are and why the allegation is being made.

The Highgate Vampire case does not remain "open" because the supernatural manifestations were successfully exorcised. There have been no similar occurrences reported since that time by anyone who can be identified as a credible witness. The case was formally closed by the Vampire Research Society in 1982. Theresa Cheung was not present when the case was unfolding and has not been privy to the archive of evidence held by those who carried out the investigation. On what grounds does she claim the case must remain open? "Unexplained events" in the supernatural realm are by definition beyond rational explanation. Can she provide one example of genuine paranormal phenomena which has been "explained" to the satisfaction of science?

Absolutely nothing supernatural can be "proven," which, of course, is why an open mind is essential when considering vampires or anything else outside the natural universe.

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That is entirely wrong. Reports about the supernatural entity reported in and around Highate Cemetery are still forthcoming. Strange atmospheres have been reported, a figure glimpsed, reports of mobile phones cutting out (or refusing to work with fully-charged batteries) are all too common.
Indeed, I have a report frm somebody from 2005 who actually witnessed a figure standing ouitside the main gate of Higate Cemetery as he was on his way home. The figure - or whatever it was - just glided across the narrow lane before suddenly disappearing through the main gates of the cemetery.
It would appear the unexplained entity seen back in the late 1960's is still active there.

David Farrant, President, BPOS

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Re: An Interview With Theresa Cheung

There have been no verified reports of the supernatural entity known as the Highgate Vampire. Graveyards frequently contain atmosphere, especially Victorian gothic cemeteries such as Highgate, and there might easily be some other phenomena detected. But the vampiric entity seen as far back as Victorian times, and reported widely in the media from 1970 onward, no longer haunts that place. It was successfully exorcised in early 1974. Everyone who can remember that far back, including those who witnessed it back in the 1960s and 1970s, is satisfied that Highgate Cemetery is free of the malevolent presence which caused pandemonium forty years ago.

See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7O6Vh7o9l_c

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Re: An Interview With Theresa Cheung

You are perfectly right in your obvious declaration about certain atmospheres and other psycic impressions may very well linger on in old graveyards.

But that is as far as I can agree.

When you speculate:

(YOUR QUOTE)

But the vampiric entity seen as far back as Victorian times, and reported widely in the media from 1970 onward, no longer haunts that place.

Yes, you are right in that too . . . but only because that 'blood-ucking vampire' never existed in the first place!

David Farrant, President, BPOS

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Re: An Interview With Theresa Cheung

"... the vampiric entity seen as far back as Victorian times, and reported widely in the media from 1970 onward, no longer haunts that place. Yes, you are right in that too . . . but only because that 'blood-ucking vampire' never existed in the first place!"

If it never existed in the first place what were you doing armed with a cross and stake in Highgate Cemetery on the night of 17 August 1970?

See: http://tinyurl.com/2woneky

Why, if it never existed, did you tell the Hampstead & Highgate Express, 6 March 1970, that you thought the vampire was probably responsible for the death of foxes in the graveyard and, quoting you from that newspaper, that everything "points to the vampire theory as being the most likely answer. Should this be so, I for one am prepared to pursue it, taking whatever means might be necessary so that we can all rest"?

See: http://tinyurl.com/yawzb64

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Re: An Interview With Theresa Cheung

There are some one point I would like to make here.  Nobody really knows what ghosts are and nobody really knows what this vampire or psychic entity reported at Highgate is, but, (sorry to stamp on any beliefs here)  as far as I know there is no scientific evidence that suggest exorcisms work.  Therefore it could quite possibly be the same phenomena being reported.

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Re: An Interview With Theresa Cheung

Sorry to stamp on any scientifically-minded paranormalists' beliefs in ghosts and the like, but there is absolutely no scientific evidence to suggest anything whatsoever supernatural exists or has ever existed, including ghosts.

I have seen no scientific evidence anywhere to suggest that ghosts (discarnate spirits of the dead) are actually real.

Have you seen anything?

The Society for Psychical Research (founded in London in 1882 as a group of prominent scholars for the purpose of investigating “that large body of debatable phenomena designated by such terms as mesmeric, psychical and spiritualistic”, and to do so “in the same spirit of exact and unimpassioned enquiry which has enabled science to solve so many problems”) have discovered no evidence to support the existence of ghosts. This comes after more than a century and a quarter of painstaking research and investigation by the Society for Psychical Research.

"The fact is so improbable that extremely good evidence is needed to make us believe it; and this evidence is not good, for how can you trust people who believe in such absurdities?"

- Edmund Gurney (19th century SPR committee member, writing about ghosts)

"Ghosts are the mind's way of interpreting how the body reacts to certain surroundings, say UK psychologists. A chill in the air, low-light conditions and even magnetic fields may trigger feelings that 'a presence' is in a room - but that is all they are, feelings. This explanation of ghosts is the result of a large study in which researchers led hundreds of volunteers around two of the UK's supposedly most haunted locations - Hampton Court Palace, England, and the South Bridge Vaults in Edinburgh, Scotland. Dr Richard Wiseman, of the University of Hertfordshire, and his colleagues say their work has thrown up some interesting data to suggest why so many people can be spooked in the same building but provides no evidence that ghosts are real."

- Aaron Frood (BBC News)

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Re: An Interview With Theresa Cheung

Feel free to stomp away Vampire Researcher.  I am a bit of a skeptic actually and agree that there is little scientic evidence for ghosts, but I do try to keep an open mind.  Anyway, hence my skepticism about exorcisms.   Actually I have seen a apparition in a joint experience under controlled conditions, however, whether it was some kind of hallucination or not is still open to debate.

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Re: An Interview With Theresa Cheung

And I have seen an exorcism in a joint experience under conditions that led me to believe it actually worked.

It is always healthy to retain an open-mind, but if something works why dispense with it just because science has a hard time coming to grips with the supernatural?

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Re: An Interview With Theresa Cheung

I think your right Vampire Researcher, as long as the exorcism does no harm (such as the type we see causing physical harm in some cultures, or cause undue stress).  It is not something I have any experience in and I must admit that I have never considered suggesting an exorcism to someone.  I am more interested in investigating claims of hauntings etc that ending them.



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