Message from a cannibal
It was spring 2007 when I first came into contact with a cannibal. He told me his name was Eric Soames. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t his real name. Considering his macabre tastes and his apparent good standing in life, it was unlikely he would have come clean with his true identity.
He got in touch with me after reading my Doktor Snake’s Voodoo Spellbook (St Martin’s Press 2004), which has become something of a cult classic. The book helped cement my reputation as something of an expert on voodoo and the occult (in reality I just do stuff and experiment).
This reputation was the reason Soames contacted me. He felt he needed informed advice on a difficult, not to say terrifying, matter, which involved both unnatural desires and the occult.
When Soames’ email dropped into my inbox I took one scan of it and thought, “Another crazyhead.” But for some reason or other I didn’t delete it, and found myself reading it a couple of hours later.
This is what the message said:
From: Eric Soames <soames@733@XXXXXX.com>
Subject: A delicate problem – can you help?
Dear Doktor Snake,
Can I talk to you about a problem I have? It would need to be in the strictest confidence as the matter is not only very delicate but could prove incriminating.
I would understand if you do not wish to pursue this any further.
The reason I have come to you is I have read both your books – Blood Rites and Doktor Snake – from cover to cover and I am in no doubt that you are one of the world’s leading experts on the occult and strange phenomena. It is also clear that you have personally practised the occult arts.
Believe me when I tell you I would not have contacted you if I wasn’t desperate.
You see I have, for want of a better word, an affliction. It is as terrifying as it is foul. It makes me feel rotten to the core. I am a vile and bestial monster.
Yet I strongly believe that my vileness is down to “‘external influences.”
This is where you come in. I want someone of your calibre in the occult world to assess my condition and give me an informed opinion as to whether the evil that I am comes from within or without.
I believe you may be my only hope. I have consulted a number of leading psychiatrists to no avail.
I am a successful businessman. So I can certainly pay you. Please name your fee.
Thank you for your time.
While the offer of a fee had its appeal (there are few writers who can afford to turn down the offer of greenbacks), it seemed certain that Soames was nothing more than a literate nutcase. So I didn’t reply.
But then, a couple of days later, another email dropped into my inbox. This time Soames laid his cards on the table. His revelations chilled me to the bone. To say I was shocked and utterly repelled by the man’s depravity would be an understatement – and I’ve been an author and voodoo man for many years.
Soames told me he had an extremely strong, almost uncontrollable, inclination toward cannibalism – or “anthropophagy” (the urge to eat humans) as it is known in academic circles.
Unlike serial killers with cannibalistic tendencies, Soames hadn’t actually murdered anyone to satisfy his needs. But he was frightened that one day he would no longer be able to resist killing someone in cold blood to satisfy his hunger.
This was why he wanted to consult me. He thought I might be able to help him discover why he had cannibalistic urges, and perhaps find a way to keep them at bay, or even exorcise them altogether.
Soames believed he was possessed by a demon, a monstrous atavism from the primal swamp – “an entity utterly cold toward humanity because it preceded us by an eternity.”
Whether this was a metaphor for serious underlying psychological problems was difficult to say. But Soames did have a very difficult childhood.
“Both my parents used to beat me for the slightest things,” he said in his email to me. “One word or even look out of place and my father would take his belt to me. My mother would look on, relishing it. Once she told him to take a kitchen knife to me – ‘Let’s see the colour of his vile, disobedient blood,’ she said. So he did. He cut a small chunk out of my arm, from which flowed a stream of blood. Like the witch that she was my mother shrieked with hysterical laughter.”
These cruel punishments went on regularly – despite the fact that his parents were staunch church-goers.
Then at twelve-years-old, in a fit of despair, Soames went down to the bottom of the garden where he couldn’t be seen and recited the Lord’s Prayer backwards. He’d heard somewhere that this summons the Devil himself. He’d increasingly come to identify with the Bible’s arch bad guy. His reasoning was this: if his parents summed up the Godly then the other side – Satan and his fallen angels – had to be a better bet.
All Soames could recall of his evocation of Satan was a bleak, sickening feeling that he was unleashing forces far beyond his control. These, he felt, would one day consume him. In fact, such was his terror that he passed out on reaching “heaven in art which Father Our,” the final line of the Lord’s Prayer recited backwards.
Shortly after this incident Soames started to get urges to consume blood. He fantasized about killing his mother and father and eating them. He would look at his school friends and imagine drugging them and slicing flesh from their thighs, cooking it up and consuming it.
“I was at once disgusted and repelled, but at the same time there was a feeling of unimaginable elation,” he recalled. “It was to the point that I had an uncontrollable erection and had to masturbate, otherwise I felt I might explode.”
But somewhere, deep inside himself, Soames had morality. He did not want to harm a living soul to satisfy his unnatural needs.
Eventually it occurred to him that he didn’t need to kill to fulfil his craving for human flesh. All he had to do was go to a mortuary or graveyard and take a slice off a freshly dead person. So long as he wasn’t caught and the relatives didn’t find out, this would hurt no one, he reasoned.
“I got my first human flesh from a local mortuary,” Soames confided to me. “I literally spent weeks staking the place out to discover a way of getting in and out without being seen.”
Once he was satisfied he could do this, Soames went into the mortuary with a razor-sharp carving knife in his satchel bag.
“I had to be quick. The attendant was having a cigarette break, as he invariably did around 4:30 pm,” he recalled. “My heart pounding, I dashed in and found the corpse of a middle-aged woman on the slab. I remember her thighs were huge and reminded me of legs of pork. So I sliced a chunk off both, then a small section from her left breast, and dropped them into a plastic bag, which I concealed in my satchel.”
After having got out without being seen, Soames dashed home.
“I knew my mother and father would not return for a couple of hours, so I put the woman’s meat in a pan and fried it in butter,” Soames related. “I masturbated as the meat cooked. When I reached orgasm I let the semen drip into the pan.”
By his own admission, Soames gobbled up the human flesh like a “ravenous wolf.”
Since that day, every few months or so, Soames has satisfied his desire for human flesh by eating small sections cut from the dead. “I’m a corpse eater,” he once said in his communications to me.
At first I thought Soames must be a vermin-like specimen of humanity living on the fringes of society. Far from it. He is a successful business man selling a range of new age products and services. Or, at least, that is what he told me during our correspondence. I have no reason to doubt him. If nothing else Soames’ literate writing style tends to back up his claim that, apart from his cannibalistic inclinations, he is a normal member of society.
The fact that Soames couldn’t be identified in a crowd as being weird in some way aroused my curiosity. It was the main reason I decided to communicate with him. Even though he offered it, I didn’t take a fee from him. Instead I decided to write a book about cannibalism – Cannibals.
To his credit Soames said he had not harmed anyone – yet – to fulfil his desires. Unlike some, who murder the innocent solely to eat their flesh. Regrettably cannibal killers are not rare. They crop up in the news all too regularly.
The question I wanted an answer to was why people do it. Are they born with a desire to kill and eat human flesh? Or do social and environmental circumstances lead them down such a macabre path in life?
As far as Soames is concerned, the answer is simple. The physical abuse he received from his parents as a child not only damaged him psychologically, it opened up his psyche enough to allow an external force – what he believed was a demoniac entity – to enter and possess him.
Unsurprisingly, criminal psychologists have little or no time for explanations rooted in the occult. It’s not part of their remit. They prefer to cite childhood abuse or psychological traumas as being the sole causes of deviant behaviour. But in quite a number of cases of cannibalistic killing there is little or no sign of an abused childhood or emotional disturbances.
I like to keep an open mind and neither believe nor disbelieve anything. I’m prepared to assess both scientific and occult theories and test them against the facts. In some respects my perspective is unique. As well as my long-time background in magic and the occult, I’ve also spent many years writing science and technology articles for national newspapers.
This is why I didn’t dismiss Soames’s claims of demoniac possession. I’m not saying I believe in the objective reality of demons; what I am saying is I think the human mind is a far bigger “universe” in itself than most of us – even psychologists – give it credit for.
As Zen Buddhism has it: there’s the “little mind” which is the conscious, every day part of our mind and runs the internal chatter and rational thought processes. Behind that is the “big mind” which is the vast reservoir of the unconscious. In this aspect of our psyche are the gods, angels and demons… the beautiful dreams, primal memories, UFOs, the Loch Ness monster and the yeti… along with the vilest of fantasies and depraved lusts. Some of which, given the right circumstances, can consume and obsess us. If our grip on consensus, or agreed, reality happens to be tenuous, there is a worrying chance we will act on them…
This could be what happens with cannibals, both when they kill and when they raid mortuaries and graveyards to gratify their need for human flesh. They could be responding to a primal memory – embedded deep in their unconscious or DNA – of a time when cannibalism was acceptable or even the norm as part of funeral rites. As anthropologists now state, cannibalism has been practised in all cultures at one time or another down the centuries.
But I should make one thing clear when I speak of the unconscious mind and the dreams and imaginative processes that spring from it. None of it should necessarily be considered any less “real” than the workings of the conscious mind. Just because the unconscious operates in the realm of metaphor and dreams doesn’t mean it isn’t there. After all, its influence on everyday reality can be felt. Especially if someone acts on their more extreme or deranged fantasies.
This is what may have happened in 2001 when German cannibal Armin Meiwes placed his advert on the internet. Was he acting on the violent, macabre and gory fantasies that had lived vividly in his psyche since childhood?
Exorcism of a cannibal
Towards the end of my talks with Eric Soames, my cannibal correspondent, we talked much about his belief that a demonic entity had been behind his terrifying desire to eat human flesh. I didn’t necessarily go along with it. But my philosophy is: neither believe nor disbelieve anything. Which is another way of saying I do my best to keep an open mind at all times.
The idea of spirits and demons, of course, seems primitive and almost embarrassing to our Western rationalistic mindset. But this isn’t the case for millions of people around the world – including the Catholic Church – who do believe in such things.
Soames and I also talked much about exorcism, the removing of evil spirits from people, which is performed by everyone from Voodoo priests to exorcists from the Catholic Church.
Eventually he asked if I could arrange an exorcism ceremony for him. He thought it might be the one thing that would bring him relief from his obsession with eating human flesh, which he was currently getting illegally from mortuaries and sometimes graveyards.
I told him I knew just the man for the job. A Canadian shaman called Dr Crazywolf. I’ve known him for some years now. He got in touch with me after reading my book, Doktor Snake’s Voodoo Spellbook. We hit it off right away and have been in touch ever since.
Crazywolf’s roots are in the Ojibwa tribe, which has some fifty thousand members living on reservations in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan in Canada. Although he’s typically referred to as a shaman, Crazywolf dismisses the term as a myth dreamed up by university academics. “It’s more accurate to call me a spirit doctor,” says the six-footer with a long mane of black hair. “People on the reservations still go to the spirit doctor to help them solve problems in their lives.”
He told me how he uses a “spirit pot” or “pot de tête” (a term that reveals a Voodoo influence in his sorcery) to perform sorcery and divination. He puts chicken bones, feathers and herbs in it, then burns them. “From the smoke I can divine the way the whirlings of fate are impacting a person. I can travel into the spirit world and try to influence the glimmering strands of destiny in their favour.”
Now in his middle-forties, Crazywolf makes a good living doing consultations both for tribal people and everyday Canadians looking to inject spirituality into their lives. He also has clients in other parts of the world – from Europe to Africa.
Every now and then he is called in to perform an exorcism.
“Sometimes people are taken over by bad spirits,” he says. “Nothing in their life goes right and they change; people around them don’t know them no more. So I perform a ceremony to free them from the bad spirit. I make it go away.”
I told him all about Eric Soames and his human flesh eating.
When I had finished, Crazywolf looked very sombre, not his usual jokey self. “That guy is possessed by a terrible being,” he said. “The fact that he has never killed anyone shows his spirit is strong. For that reason only I think there is some hope I can help him. But I cannot make guarantees. This is a bad case. I cannot be certain I can win against such a creature. But I will try.”
I contacted Soames and he agreed to pay Crazywolf his usual fee, plus expenses – which Soames promptly transferred via Paypal (whether the transaction “exorcising a cannibal” was a first for them, I don’t know).
A date was set for Crazywolf to fly over. All we needed then was a location. Crazywolf said the exorcism would ideally be performed at a “place of power”, such as a stone circle. Clearly going to somewhere like Avebury Circle in Wiltshire or the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire would have drawn too much attention, and may well have led to us being arrested – which would have been a disaster all round.
After much thought I decided on the Gog Magog Hills, a range of chalk hills running several miles to the southeast of Cambridge. The dowser and archaeologist Tom Lethbridge claimed to have found some ancient figures buried in the chalk under the surface of the hills. These, he said, represented a sun god, moon goddess and warrior god. This suggested the area was probably considered sacred in ancient times, and so it fitted the bill as a “place of power.” The other good thing about the location was it lay halfway between me in Norwich and Soames in London.
A few weeks later Crazywolf arrived from Canada. He stayed with me for a few days before we set off to do the exorcism ceremony. During that time we talked about the chances of curing Soames’ condition.
“The bad spirit has been in him for a long time,” said Crazywolf. “So it won’t be easy to extract it. I’ll have a fight on my hands.”
He went on to relate how he’d had some dealings with cannibals before, on a trip to Africa during summer 2006. He’d been shocked to discover two traditional healers were eating flesh.
“They were a husband and wife team based in Mozambique,” he said. “They’d been digging up corpses to eat the flesh and powdered bones.”
Apparently the two – Neva Mafunga (50) and Nhanvura Faera (34) – had been caught in possession of human organs. Crazywolf had been brought in as an advisor due to his detailed knowledge of traditional healing.
“They said eating human flesh strengthened their power to heal people,” Crazywolf said. “But it was dark, baleful sorcery fit only for the lowest, left-hand orders of witchcraft.”
Belief in the power of witchcraft in the region is prevalent, but according to police, cases of cannibalism are rare.
The husband – Neva Mafunga – confessed to tucking into human fare for over twenty years, but his wife said she’d only done it on his instructions.
The question was, had they killed people to get the flesh they craved? Or had they feasted on already dead bodies?
Crazywolf said, “It couldn’t be proven that they had murdered anyone for flesh.” But went on to say that, irrespective of the legalities of cannibalism, there’s actually a level of risk to health associated with it.
For example, the Fore tribe in Papua New Guinea, who continued to practise cannibalism up until the 1950s, found this out to their cost. While the men of the tribe used to supplement their bean and sweet potato diets by eating small animals, the women and children made up for lack of protein by eating the brains of tribal members who had recently died.
“They ended up dying from brain disease,” said Crazywolf.
According to scientists the symptoms were similar to the human form of mad cow disease. Although the jury is out as to the exact cause, experts speculate that the deaths could well have resulted from the consumption of human brains.
I thought about that for a moment, then remarked to Crazywolf, “If there was any justice in the world, psychopathic cannibal killers like Issei Sagawa would have contracted something similar. At least then the families and friends of their victims might feel they had got their just desserts, if you’ll pardon the pun, rather than getting off lightly for their horrific crimes.”
I remembered another cannibal killer who had been given an incredibly light sentence during the late 1990s. This was David Harker who said he strangled mother-of-four Julie Paterson with her tights after he “got bored” during a sex session. He then had sex with her corpse before chopping off her head and limbs.
His ugly desire satiated, he began to feel peckish. So he sliced some flesh from her thigh, skinned it, and cooked it with pasta and cheese sauce.
Harker – who had “Subhuman” and “Disorder” tattooed on his scalp – then dumped thirty-two-year-old Julie’s torso in a bin liner not far from her bedsit.
After his capture, psychologists concluded he was “an extremely dangerous individual who had shown no remorse.” Tests revealed he was in the top four percent of the most disturbed psychopaths. He freely admitted to doctors that he had erotic fantasies about mutilating bodies.
Harker was sentenced to fourteen years in prison before he could be considered for parole. Considering his victim had four children, you could hardly describe his punishment as severe.
As Crazywold commented, “You can’t let people like that loose on society – it’s a given they’ll kill again. It doesn’t matter what is driving them – a demon or derangement – once they’ve killed and tasted their first blood there is no stopping them.”
He believed that there was hope for Eric Soames because he hadn’t yet killed. He hadn’t wholly given in to the terrible force that was driving him.
It was a hot weekend in Summer 2007 when Crazywolf and I prepared to set off for the exorcism ceremony. He loaded my car with the various ritual tools he needed, which included his tribal robes and an intricately decorated staff.
It took a couple of hours for us to get to Cambridge, via the A11 from Norwich. We then took the bypass towards Cherry Hinton and the Gog Magog Hills. We’d agreed to meet Soames in a more remote part of the Gog Magogs. So we had to leave the car in a public car park, used mostly by ramblers, and make our way on foot using an ordnance survey map. Soames had said he would do the same.
It was about 8pm and beginning to get dusk when we found Soames waiting on the desolate hillock where we said we’d meet. Despite his dark tastes he looked very ordinary. He was in his late fifties, had greying short hair and wore rectangular metal-rimmed spectacles. He looked quite fit and muscular – which he later said was down to his love of hiking and country walks.
Soames was well-spoken, but this was no surprise as his parents had been middle-class professionals.
“Ah, Doktor Snake and Crazywolf, nice to meet you both,” he said, offering his hand to me, then Crazywolf, to shake.
“Good to meet you too, after all the time we spent talking by email.” I said.
With the formalities out of the way, it was time to get down to business.
Crazywolf began setting up his ceremonial circle ready to perform what he called the Ritual of the Four Divine Winds.
He collected some large stones to mark the four compass directions on the perimeter of the circle. He also put a stone in the centre, which he said would be the altar stone. He then sprinkled red powder paint all around the edge of the circle.
After that he gathered together a large bunch of sticks and fallen branches and built three ‘sacred fires’ inside the circle. My job was to keep these alight during the ceremony.
Once everything was ready – and Soames had put on his ceremonial robes – he directed Soames to lie down in the centre of the circle, close to the altar stone. “Take your glasses off,” he instructed, “so you don’t hurt yourself.” Not surprisingly Soames began to look very nervous about what was to come.
Crazywolf opened the ceremony by raising his arms to the skies, declaring, “I call upon the great teacher and divine father Kitchie Manito! I call Wabununk-Daci, powerful spirit of the East! I call Cawnunk-Daci guardian of the southern gates! I call on Ningabian-Daci walker of the western lands! I call upon Kiwedinunk-Daci, spirit of the northern wastes! By the prophet’s pole of ancient lore let the ritual begin!”
Crazywolf started a slow dance around the sacred fires, muttering a hypnotic song to his ancestors. After about ten minutes of doing this the atmosphere began to change and became heavy and eerie. It felt as if an ancient presence had entered the circle.
Then without warning, Crazywolf shrieked and crouched down next to Soames, who now looked nothing short of terrified. He looked Soames directly in the eyes and shouted, “I’m talking to the spirit now… You must leave, leave, LEAVE! Get out! Ugly brute of a spirit. Begone and find another home!”
This went on for some considerable time, shattering the silence of the lonely hillock.
Soames meanwhile was shaking uncontrollably, almost as if he was having an epileptic fit. I started to worry that he might die – an occurrence I really wouldn’t have wanted to explain to the police. I started to say something to Crazywolf, but he motioned me to be quiet and told me to see to the sacred fires.
Eventually Crazywolf’s chants and Soames’ shaking reached a terrifying climax, with Soames suddenly letting out a shrill, yet mournful cry – one I shall never forget for its strange mix of sadness and ugliness.
Crazywolf collapsed on the floor, exhausted. I went over with a bottle of mineral water and sprinkled some over his face, which brought him round.
“It’s done,” he said. “The spirit has left him. For a second I thought I was going to lose.”
I looked round at Soames. He’d stopped shaking and was getting up. He looked very white, and yet looked strangely tranquil and at peace.
“It’s gone…” he whispered. Then looking at Crazywolf, he said, “You’ve saved my soul.”
After we’d packed everything up and made sure the fires were out, we left for a village pub. None of us said very much. The experience had drained us. But Soames humbly thanked Crazywolf and said he knew for sure his cannibalistic urges were gone forever.
I never heard from Soames again after that. I think he didn’t want to burden me. Being an honourable sort of chap I’d say he recognised that few people would want a cannibal – albeit a reformed one – as a friend or correspondent. And the truth is he’s right.