Henry James was a Dry Shite

turn screw aspern james henryThe Aspern Papers and Turn of the Screw – Henry James
Penguin – 1984

I first read Turn of the Screw five years ago. I remember it taking a far longer time to get through than I had expected. While it’s only a novella, the text is remarkably dense, and I frequently needed to reread paragraphs to understand what they meant. I have worked as a teacher/tutor for many years, and rereading Turn of the Screw felt like an exercise in professional development for me; it allowed me to feel the confusion that a student goes through when they are confronted with text that is above their reading level. By the time I got around to rereading the book, I had mostly forgotten what happens in the story, so it was just as difficult the second time around.

Many, if not most, reviews of Turn of the Screw remark on the frustrating complexity of James’ sentence structures, and I have read several reviews that claim that the complicated text adds to the story’s atmosphere of claustrophobia and confusion. It’s an interesting technique, but I didn’t enjoy it. The story here is grand, but the writing ruins it.

Also included in this book is The Aspern Papers, another novella by James. This one is about a man trying to get at some papers that are in an old lady’s closet. It has no supernatural element to it, but I enjoyed it more than Turn of the Screw.

ghost stories henry james
Ghost Stories of Henry James
Wordsworth – Supposedly published in 2001

Last time I was home, I went to one of my favourite book shops and bought a bunch of books from the Wordsworth Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural series. I had picked 5 out, but if you bought them in groups of 3, they were cheaper. This collection by James was the only one that I didn’t already have and I had forgotten how unpleasant reading him was, so I threw it in.

These stories are generally fairly crappy. The Ghostly Rental was probably the only one I actually enjoyed. The Romance of Certain Old Clothes was readable, but much like the exceedingly boring Owen Wingrave, the ghost bit only happens on the very last page. The Private Life and the Jolly Corner are based on interesting ideas, but they’re not spooky stories. The Third Person is one of the most boring, shitty, pooey-bum-bum stories I have ever read. This collection also contains Turn of the Screw.

These aren’t ghost stories for people who like ghost stories. They are stories that feature ghosts for people who like imagining that they’re clever and smelling their own farts. I really, really hope that I never have to read anything by Henry James ever again.

M.R. James > Henry James x 1000.

Ghoul – Michael Slade

ghoul michael sladeGhoul – Michael Slade
Signet – 1989 (Originally published 1987)

I bought this book at a library booksale last year because it had a spooky name and it only cost 25 cents. I don’t think I have ever made such a fortunate purchase.

After a prologue which describes a gang of teenage boys burying their friend alive while listening to Black Sabbath and talking about H.P. Lovecraft, I put the book down and took a deep breath. A novel about teenage mischief, heavy metal, and classic horror? This had to be awesome.

I read a few chapters more. After some remarkably graphic violence, the narrative moves to a rock club in Vancouver that is “Situated on the main floor of a rundown skid row building” with “no sign to mark its presence for those not in the know”. Now, most of my readers won’t know this, but aside from reading and reviewing spooky books, my other main hobby is attending and playing concerts in unmarked, rundown buildings on Vancouver’s skid row.

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At this point, I wondered how a text, written by another person, could be so specifically relevant to my interests. I first considered if the author had stalked me and then gone on to write a book tailored to my tastes. I was only one year old when the book was written though, so this seemed unlikely. No, this book was not written for me to read. I was born to read this book.

The rest of the novel is a fast paced thriller about a collection of insane, depraved murderers, at least two of whom play in a Lovecraft themed rock band named Ghoul. The horror here is of the bloodthirsty, slimy, two-headed freak locked in a cage variety. I’d be afraid to call anything splatterpunk because I’m not really sure what that means, but this book defines itself as such, and the label seems quite fitting. It has guitars, mohawks and a lot of blood and guts. I’ve read books that describe horrendous acts of violence before, but don’t think I’ve read anything quite as grossout gory as this. One scene describes a man disemboweling another individual, cutting a hole in his skull, debraining him, and then proceeding to fill the victim’s cranial cavity with his own internal organs. Cool.

Just because a book is about cool things doesn’t mean it’s going to be a good read. Ghoul, however, is a mighty enjoyable novel. It’s extremely well researched and plotted out. The authors are a pair of lawyers who specialise in the criminally insane. They are also clearly fans of classic horror. One wouldn’t have to be a horror buff to enjoy this novel, but I was glad to be able to understand the bits about Lovecraft’s stories. The only aspect of the book that I felt the authors could have researched more thoroughly was rock and roll stuff.

First off, Ghoul’s music and how it sounds isn’t very important to the book at all. Whether it’s punk rock, goth rock, heavy metal or some other genre of cacophony is unclear. I’m going to refer to it as heavy metal based on other bands that are mentioned in the book.

Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper, Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, Black Sabbath, Grim Reaper and AC/DC are Ghoul‘s musical influences. Aside from Grim Reaper, these bands are all household names. Heavy metal fans might listen to all of these groups, but within any underground metal scene, it’s standard practice to champion lesser-known bands. Bands who play in the venues that Ghoul play in and who act like Ghoul usually make a point of letting people know how esoteric their tastes in music are. I know this book was written more than 30 years ago, but even at that stage Venom and Mercyful Fate had put out several albums each and been brought to the attention of the public by the PMRC, the Misfits and Grave 45 had put out a bunch of horror themed punk records, Metallica had recorded and released several songs about Lovecraftian entities, and Death and Black metal were starting to take off. Instead of researching and referencing this stuff, the authors chose to go backstage at a Motley Crue concert for their insight into rock’n’roll. The novel was presumably written to appeal to lots of people and referencing bigger bands might make it more accessible to the masses, but seeing that the authors worked pretty hard to make the detective stuff believable, I thought they should have put a bit more effort into the rock’n’roll side of things. The version of rock that they present is the imaginary rock of which evangelical parents are afraid.

At one point, they refer to Highway to Hell as a Grim Reaper song. Grim Reaper have lots of songs with Hell in the title, and I wouldn’t hold it against anyone for getting them mixed up, but confusing Grim Reaper and AC/DC is a sin against rock.

That being said, some of the trends in heavy metal that these authors imagined soon became reality. It was only a few years after the publication of Ghoul that the shit hit the fan in Norway’s Black Metal scene and heavy metal band members started murdering people and burning buildings down. Also, Lovecraft’s mythos has become an extremely popular topic for death metal bands to write songs and albums about. Most prophetic of all though, would be the authors’ idea of a band called Ghoul that put on elaborate stage shows and sing about death and violence.

Ghoul (the real ones) are a metal band from Oakland that have been together since 2001. Like the Ghoul of the novel, this band also have a hyper-violent horror theme going on. I can’t say for certain how deliberate their choice of name was, but I can’t help but presume that at least one of the members has read the book. Their song lyrics are about sewer dwelling maniacs (Sewer Chewer), axe murders (Maniaxe, Bury the Hatchet), catacombs, crypts, graveyards (Into the Catacombs, Forbidden Crypts, Graveyard Mosh) and torturing freaks (Mutant Mutilator). These are all important motifs in the book. The band even have an album (and song) called Splattertrash. A few years ago, I actually saw the real Ghoul playing a show in a rundown building on Vancouver’s skid row, almost exactly like the Ghoul in the novel.

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Written in the era of Video Nasties and the PMRC, Ghoul’s stance on rock music and horror is a bit confusing. One would think that the authors of an extremely gory, horror novel would do what they could to defend their creation, but the text seems to imply the potential culpability of both horror and rock. Not only are the dangers of reading horror fiction and attending rock concerts discussed at length and demonstrated by the characters, but a list of actual rock’n’roll-related acts of violence is given at the end of the book. Were the authors just trying to give their novel an extra edge by making it seem dangerous, or did they actually write it in an attempt to encourage violent acts? The latter option might seem ridiculous, but remember that the authors were both criminal lawyers. By encouraging acts of violence, they’d be setting themselves up to get more work.

I have never been so pleasantly surprised by a book. Ghoul is an awesome, awesome book, and I recommend that you read it immediately.

Black Easter – James Blish

black easter - james blishBlack Easter – James Blish
Equinox/Avon Books – 1977 (First published 1968)

This is definitely one of the better novels about black magic that I have read. The particular nature of this story renders it difficult to discuss without giving away some fairly crucial plot details, so if you’re like me and like to know as little as possible about a book before reading it, maybe you should come back to this review after reading the book itself. If you were hoping that this review would help you decide whether or not to read the book, know that I loved it. If you have any interest in the other books that I’ve reviewed on here, you’ll probably enjoy this one.

Spoilers start here:

The plot of this novel could be charted with a single ascending line. There is no falling action, denouement or resolution; it ends with the climax, and a rather climactic climax it is too. I like when books are gutsy enough to have brutal endings (unless they’re love stories), and finishing off with the ultimate victory of evil over good as brutal as it gets. I was expecting the priest to do something to thwart Baines and Ware, but I was delighted that he didn’t.

The ending was both shocking and abrupt, and for the first time that I can remember, I wanted to reread a book as soon as I had finished it. There is a sequel though, The Day after Judgement, so I’m going to wait till I get my hands on that before I reread Black Easter. To be honest, I was so happy with the ending that I am a bit worried that the second part of the story will ruin the first. I don’t want the characters to get a chance to fix things.

The final revelation of Black Easter, the claim that God is dead, is particularly chilling given the nature and timing of his death. He has died at a time when Earth is infested with demons, demons that have hitherto been under the guidance of ceremonial magicians using the dead God’s names as their instrument of control. By creating this scenario, Blish calls into question the inherent conflict of ceremonial magic as noted by A.E. Waite. Black magicians using grimoires such as the Lesser Key of Solomon and the Grand Grimoire, both of which are alluded to in Black Easter, need to ask God for his help in controlling the demons they conjure. Why would a loving God help an individual who was intent on massive acts of terror, and, in this case, why would an all knowing God accommodate his own destruction? Could it be that God is so upset with his creations that he wants to die? There’s a depressing thought.

While Black Easter and The Day after Judgement make up one larger work, that combined work (sometimes called The Devil’s Day) makes up a single part of Blish’s After Such Knowledge trilogy. The other books in this thematic trilogy are A Case of Conscience and Doctor Mirablis. I have a copy of Doctor Mirablis on my shelf, and I’m planning on picking up the other two books soon. It’s been quite a while since I finished a book and wanted to read more from the same author.

Part of the appeal of Blish’s writing, and I’ve already alluded to this, is his attention to accuracy. While this is a fantasy novel, much of its content comes from real grimoires. Blish addresses this in a note at the beginning of his book; he states,  “All of the books mentioned in the text actually exist; there are no “Necronomicons” or other such invented works”. Despite this, he later quotes from The Book of the Sayings of Tsiang Samdup, a fabled tome, similar to the Necronomicon in that the first references to it appeared in works of fiction, two novels Talbot Mundy. (This wasn’t the only time that elements of Mundy’s work managed to will themselves out of the confines of fiction.) On top of all this, there are those who say that Theron Ware, the central character of Black Easter, is based on Aleister Crowley. Ware certainly resembles the kind of person I’d imagine Crowley to have been, but I had read of this comparison before reading the novel, so I can’t be sure how much of the similarity was legitimate and how much of it was projected by my expectations.

Like I said, I’m planning to read the sequel, so I’ll doubtlessly come back to this book. In the meantime, make sure you eat loads of chocolate for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

The Satanist – Dennis Wheatley

dennis wheatley the satanistThe Satanist – Dennis Wheatley
Heron Books – 1972 (Originally published 1960)

While trying to infiltrate a gang of communists responsible for the death of his coworker, Barney Sullivan, an Irish Lord working as a spy in England, falls in love. Unbeknownst to him, the woman he falls in love with is both a) the vengeful wife of the man he himself has set out to avenge and b) a former lover of his own. One thing leads to another and pretty soon, Satanists get their evil claws on an atomic bomb and plan to use it to bring about the downfall of civilization.

Much like the rest of the plot, the means by which the antagonistic force of the story transforms from Communism to Satanism is complicated, confusing and a bit silly. Just know that it involves a disgusting Indian man with an upset tummy, a pair of psychic twins and week’s worth of casual rape. Sensible, believable plotlines weren’t what made Dennis Wheatley a best selling author though, and, silly as it is, I really quite enjoyed the story. The real problem with this text is the writing itself.

the great ram satanistLike the other Heron editions, this book has a few illustrations thrown in here and there.

At 440 pages, this is the longest Wheatley novel I’ve read to date. It is not generally considered to be one of his better books, although I reckon that it would have been if he had spent a few weeks editing it and trimming it down to the 270-300 page range. As it is, this book is painfully wordy. The story will get to an interesting bit and Wheatley will proceed to dampen the excitement by giving two detailed paragraphs on how the characters had to go back to their apartments to shower, eat and spend a few sleepless hours tossing and turning in bed before rising to action. This really could have been a lot better.

the satanist to the devil a daughter

A few years ago, I reviewed To the Devil – a Daughter by Wheatley. If you look online, you will come across suggestions that this book is a sequel to that one, but that’s not really the case. I know that books in Wheatley’s other series don’t depend on the reader having read the previous entries, but the books in those series at least feature the same protagonists. Both To the Devil – a Daughter and The Satanist feature Colonel Verney as a fairly important character, but he’s the protagonist in neither, and aside from a couple of brief references, the two texts are quite separate. I was a little disappointed with this as I hoping for the Crowleyesque Canon Copely Syle from To the Devil – a Daughter to make a return. Speaking of that which relates to Crowley, The Satanist includes repeated allusions to the “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” mantra of the Devil worshippers. It seems that Wheatley didn’t differentiate Thelema from Satanism. It should be noted though that Wheatley was personally acquainted with Crowley and probably knew more about him than you do.

Like Wheatley’s other novels, The Satanist contains lots of old fashioned racism. There’s a part in here where he describes the revulsion that any white woman is bound to feel after touching the skin of any man that isn’t white. It’s still a bit weird to see words like nigger and chink being used so casually in literature. The two protagonists of the story are Irish, and although they let out a few Bejasuses when they’re excited, they don’t come across too badly. That being said, Mary, the female lead, is a former prostitute. At first I thought this depiction might have been an attack on the loose morals of Irish women, but Wheatley is surprisingly sympathetic towards her. He makes it very clear that she only has sex to get ahead when it is absolutely necessary, pretty progressive stuff for our Dennis!

It’s been almost 2 years since I read a novel by Dennis Wheatley, and after reading this one, I’ll be in no hurry to return to his work. I mean, I will eventually get through all of his Black Magic novels, but I don’t think I’ll bother with much (if any) of the other stuff he wrote.

Speaking as an Irishman: Aleister Crowley’s Saint Patrick’s Day Poem

crowley tiocfaidh ar la up the rahLast year, I wrote a post about Aleister Crowley in which I briefly discussed his strange fascination with Ireland. In the Book of Lies, he claims to be an Irishman, and his title within the O.T.O. was “Supreme and Holy King of Ireland, Iona and all the Britains within the Sanctuary of the Gnosis”. In 1915, he tried to cause a scene in New York by proclaiming the birth of an independent Irish Republic. Thirteen years prior to doing so, he wrote a poem about the Emerald Isle. I’m going to post it here:

ST. PATRICK’S DAY, 1902.
“Written at Delhi.”

O GOOD St. Patrick, turn again
Thy mild eyes to the Western main!
Shalt thou be silent? thou forget?
Are there no snakes in Ireland yet?

“Death to the Saxon! Slay nor spare!”
“O God of Justice, hear us swear!”

The iron Saxon’s bloody hand
Metes out his murder on the land.
The light of Erin is forlorn.
The country fades: the people mourn.

Of land bereft, of right beguiled,
Starved, tortured, murdered, or exiled;
Of freedom robbed, of faith cajoled,
In secret councils bought and sold!

Their weapons are the cell, the law,
The gallows, and the scourge, to awe
Brave Irish hearts: their hates deny
The right to live — the right to die.

Our weapons — be they fire and cord,
The shell, the rifle, and the sword!
Without a helper or a friend
All means be righteous to the End!

Look not for help to wordy strife!
This battle is for death or life.
Melt mountains with a word — and then
The colder hearts of Englishmen!

Look not to Europe in your need!
Columbia’s but a broken reed!
Your own good hearts, your own strong hand
Win back at last the Irish land.

Won by the strength of cold despair
Our chance is near us — slay nor spare!
Open to fate the Saxons lie: —
Up! Ireland! ere the good hour fly!

Stand all our fortunes on one cast!
Arise! the hour is come at last.
One torch may fire the ungodly shrine —
O God! and may that torch be mine!

But, even when victory is assured,
Forget not all ye have endured!
Of native mercy dam the dyke,
And leave the snake no fang to strike!

They slew our women: let us then
At least annihilate their men!
Lest the ill race from faithless graves
Arise again to make us slaves.

Arise, O God, and stand, and smite
For Ireland’s wrong, for Ireland’s right!
Our Lady, stay the pitying tear!
There is no room for pity here!

What pity knew the Saxon e’er?
Arise, O God, and slay nor spare,
Until full vengeance rightly wrought
Bring all their house of wrong to nought!

Scorn, the catastrophe of crime,
these be their monuments through time!
And Ireland, green once more and fresh,
Draw life from their dissolving flesh!

By Saxon carcases renewed,
Spring up, O shamrock virgin-hued!
And in the glory of thy leaf
Let all forget the ancient grief!

Now is the hour! The drink is poured!
Wake! fatal and avenging sword!
Brave men of Erin, hand in hand,
Arise and free the lovely land!

“Death to the Saxon! Slay nor spare!”
“O God of Justice, hear us swear!”

 

I’d love to hear Bono and Enya do a duet version.

I haven’t read much else of Crowley’s poetry, but this seems more political than mystical. It’s quite vicious. I wonder how much of Crowley’s sympathy for Ireland was sincere and how much was just part of his anti-authoritarian shtick. Somehow, I doubt the Irish public of 1902 would have had much time for him.

Sorry for the recent lack of updates on the site; the books I’m reading at the moment are quite long, but I’m aiming for another two posts by the end of the month. Anyways, I hope you have a pleasant, holy and snake-free Saint Patrick’s day.

 

 

Brits out!

 

Staring at Goats

men who stare at goats jon ronsonThe Men Who Stare at Goats – Jon Ronson
Simon & Schuster – 2004

I saw the Men Who Stare at Goats movie when it came out in the cinema. I remember being a bit disappointed by it. A few years later, I watched Crazy Rulers of the World, the documentary series (part 1, part 2, part 3) that was meant to accompany the book on which the movie was based. I loved it. I don’t know why or how I only got around to reading the book last Saturday, but when I did sit down with it, I enjoyed every page.

This book is far more modern (and popular) than a lot of the books that I review here, so a detailed summary is unnecessary. Suffice to say that it’s a book about secret experiments, projects and forays into the paranormal that went on in the US army and CIA. It touches on remote viewing, telekinesis, UFOs, Project MK Ultra, and the Heaven’s Gate cult. Ronson’s writing style is enjoyable and makes the whole thing very easy to digest.

The only real criticism I have of the book has to do with the suggestion that the forms of sonic torture used during WACO and the American invasion of Iraq had been derived from the ideas of Jim Channon. In the late 1970s, Channon, the leader of the First Earth Battalion (more on them later), had suggested blasting enemies with loud, unpleasant music to disorientate them. A sizable portion of Ronson’s book explores the potential link between Channon’s ideas and American soldiers’ use of music to torture terror suspects. I suppose it’s not impossible that there was an indirect link between Channon’s ideas and the atrocities committed in Iraq, but I think it’s far more likely that these soldiers had the idea of blasting prisoners with horrible music completely independently of Channon. Playing loud music to annoy people is hardly a revolutionary idea. Also, I’m not convinced that soldiers playing Matchbox 20 in both Iraq and Guantanamo Bay was anything more than coincidence.

jim channon audio spectrumChannon’s arsenal of auditory weapons.

The section on music as torture provides a necessary bridge to the latter part of the book, and things would probably seem a bit disjointed without it. I’m willing to forgive Ronson for including it because it’s an interesting topic even if his conclusions aren’t convincing, and the stuff that appears both before and after this section is fascinating.

After reading the entire book on the Saturday. I spent my Sunday rewatching the documentary series that went along with it. This series covers much of the same material as the book, but there’s enough exclusive information in both to warrant doing both. I did not rewatch the movie, and I don’t think I’ll bother. There’s sections in both Ronson’s documentary series and book on Frank Olsen and the C.I.A., LSD, suicide/murder conspiracy. I’m currently about half way through Wormwood, the new Netflix documentary series about the Olsen case. It’s pretty good.

cia manual trickery and deceptionThe Official C.I.A. Manual of Trickery and Deception – John Mulholland, H. Keith Melton and Robert Wallace
William Morrow Paperbacks – 2010

While waiting for the call on my library hold on The Men who Stare at Goats, I picked up a book that I bought at a library book sale last year for 50 cents. This is the C.I.A. manual of Trickery and Deception. In the 50s, as part of their infamous MKUltra, mind control program, the C.I.A. hired John Mulholland, a famous stage magician, to write a manual to teach their agents how to use sleight of hand to slip poison into an enemy’s drink. It was believed that all copies of this manual had been destroyed, but Melton and Wallace found a copy in 2007. The introduction section was fairly interesting, but I have to be honest, I gave up on the actual manual part about half-way through. The text is painstakingly boring, and the information it contains is really only going to be useful for date-rapists.

first earth battalion army of light

First Earth Battalion Manual – Jim Channon
Unknown Publisher (US Military?) – 1979ish

I’ve already mentioned the First Earth Battalion. The F.E.B. was a proposed army of superhumans that would be capable of transforming both warfare and human existence. It was imagined by Jim Channon, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel. According to Ronson, the pentagon paid this guy to spend two years visiting a bunch of new-age institutions and groups in California in the late 70s as part of an attempt to gather ideas to reinvigorate the US army. At the end of these two years, Channon published a manual wherein he described the soldiers of the future as warrior monks, capable of levitation, walking through walls, and cleansing the colon at will. This manual is extensively featured in Ronson’s documentary and quoted from in his book. I knew I’d have to track down a copy.

Doing so was a little more complicated than I anticipated. The first result of a google search for “first earth battalion pdf” looks promising, but I’m not sure it’s the exact document that Ronson was referring to. “The First Earth Battalion Field Manual” (FEB-A from hereon-in) contains lots of the information and images that the featured text contains, but it omits the parts about the different abilities available to various levels of Warrior monks. This document is from 1982. There is another document floating around the net under the title of “First Earth Battalion Manual” (let’s call it FEB-B) but aside from a few pages of new information, this text is mostly the same as FEB-A. It also omits the details of the different levels of Warrior Monks. I think that this one, the shorter pdf, was the text presented to the Delta Force think tank in 1983, but I can’t be sure of this.

warrior monk abilitiesSome of the abilities of a Warrior Monk, as listed in First Earth Battalion – Evolutionary Tactics Manual (FEB-C), as seen in part 1 of Crazy Rulers of the World.

As far as I can tell, the text that Ronson was looking at was a slightly different document to the ones that I have seen. This third document (FEB-C), I believe, was called “First Earth Battalion Evolutionary Tactics Manual”. NewEarthArmy.com, Jim Channon’s website (or at least a website about him) is marketing a pdf version of this text with the following blurb:

“Evolutionary Tactics is the First Earth Battalion’s Field Manual.  As seen in the movie The Men Who Stare at Goats, the manual was created by Jim Channon for the U.S. Army and first published in 1978. It illustrates high performance concepts and evolutionary ideas. Originally passed on officer-to-officer via photocopy, it has since become something of a collector’s item.

Now you can obtain a rare copy of this manual. Its 150 pages are filled with curious artistic renderings, cartoons, and out-of-the-ordinary ideas.”

At 150 pages, this text (FEB-C) is quite a bit longer than the ones available for free (FEB-A and FEB-B), so I am guessing it contains the missing sections. Unfortunately, I can find no free pdf versions of this text online.

The ambiguity over which text is the original and the omission of certain sections in the free pdfs is perhaps explained by the fact that the original text was largely distributed by photocopying. After having read through the free version online, I have absolutely no curiosity or desire to see the unexpurgated text. The 100+ pages of this malarky that I did read were quite sufficient.

unity through diversityVomit.

This is really very silly stuff. At one point, Channon claims that it is possible that the human race is transforming from a carbon based lifeform to a silicon based lifeform. It reminded me of those horrible new-age alien books that I read/tried to read a few years ago.

Also, having read through this rubbish and researched Channon a bit more, I am rather confused as to the official status of this material. Ronson’s work seems to present it as if it were endorsed by the military, but I can’t find any evidence of this online. The fact that it was distributed through photocopying also suggests that it was never an official army document. That the military gave him money to research this stuff is surprising enough, but I find it very difficult to believe that they would play an active role in publishing this rubbish after having seen it.

Jim Channon died last September, but nobody has updated his wikipedia page yet. He was a bit loopy, but seemed nice enough. RIP Jim.

Reading through all of this stuff, I couldn’t help but think of the X-Files. There’s no evidence that any of the US military’s experiments into the paranormal yielded any positive results, but these texts confirm that US defense and security forces have long been involved in shady, conspiratorial and sometimes mental activities.

Marx and Satan

marx and satan wurmbrandMarx and Satan – Richard Wurmbrand
Crossway Books – 1986

Wow.

As far as I know, I’m not a Marxist. I encountered a small amount of Karl Marx’s writing when I was in university, but I’ve never read Das Kapital or the Communist Manifesto. I certainly have no interest in defending or attacking Marx’s views, and even if I did, my horror/occult book blog would not be the place to do it. It might seem strange then that this blog is the perfect place to attack a book critiquing Marx, but there you go.

This book, you see, claims that Karl Marx, the man who famously referred to religion as “the opiate of the masses”, was in fact a devout theistic Satanist. Again, I’m not an expert on Marx, but the general consensus is that we was actually an atheist who had complex opinions about religion. The writer of this book, a mad person named Richard Wurmbrand, builds his case against Marx by exaggerating or misreading every single time the words devil, evil, demon, etc., appear in the entire, enormous corpus of Marx’s writings. Richard Wurmbrand probably read Marx’s books, but when you look at this title of this book, you’ll notice that it’s not a biography. It’s called Marx and Satan. To me, that suggests that this book should be equal parts Marx and Satan, or that at least the same amount of research should have been done on both. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Richard Wurmbrand’s concept of Satanism is contradictory, sensational, inaccurate and absolutely stupid. I may not be an expert on Marx, but I’ve read enough books about Satanism to I feel qualified to point out a few problems here.

First off, at several points throughout his book, Wurmbrand notes that his cause is particularly difficult to fight for because of the secretive nature of the Satanists. He uses the phrase, “the highly secretive Satanist church”. Soon thereafter, he quotes from the Satanic Bible. Despite the aforementioned “highly secretive” nature of the Satanic church, Wurmbrand was somehow been able to track down a copy of their Bible. The Satanic Bible, for those of you who don’t know, is a widely available book that has now gone through 30 printings and sold a million copies. I know that this is the book he’s talking about because I have a copy on my shelf. The Church of Satan, the organization that puts that book out relies on new membership fees and book sales to survive. They also run a popular twitter account with 160,000 followers. You could accuse them of many of things, but secretive they are not.

Now, I know that there are many branches and varieties of Satanism, but by quoting from the Satanic Bible, Wurmbrand has clearly identified the LaVeyan brand of Satanism as the one he is discussing. I don’t think that it’s at all unreasonable for me to make that claim. (Why would he quote from a book if it wasn’t directly relevant to the point he is making?) Ok, but this is interesting because after referring to these Satanists as highly secretive, he also claims that “The Satanist sect is not materialistic.” Of course, the Church of Satan is, and always has been, materialistic. On their website, they boast about their “materialist philosophy“. Obviously, their website wasn’t available when Wurmbrand was writing his book, but this materialist philosophy is clearly propounded in the book that Wurmbrand quotes from. So allow me to recap here. Despite Wurmbrand’s claims to the contrary, the Church of Satan is not “highly secretive”, they are not “not materialistic”, and they are certainly not secretive about their being materialistic. I have no personal reason to defend the Church of Satan here. I am merely pointing out facts that are clearly apparent to anyone who has done even the smallest amount of research on LaVeyan Satanism.

But how did Wurmbrand get things so wrong? How did he misinterpret the Satanic Bible in such a remarkable way? Well, to understand that, let’s take a look at the quotations that Wurmbrand actually used:

“The Satanic Bible,” after saying “the crucifix symbolizes pallid incompetence hanging on a tree,” calls Satan “the ineffable Prince of Darkness who rules the earth.” As opposed to “the lasting foulness of Bethlehem,” “the cursed Nazarene,” “the impotent king,” “fugitive and mute god,” “vile and abhorred pretender to the majesty of Satan,” the Devil is called “the God of Light,” with angels “cowering and trembling with fear and prostrating themselves before him” and “sending Christian minions staggering to their doom.”

Well, yeah. That clears things up a bit. Apart from the first quote there, the crucifix symbolism one, none of those quotations are even from the Satanic Bible. The rest are from the Satanic Rituals, an entirely separate book by the same author. That’s not all though. I did a little research and I found the following passage from a 1977 book called Don’t Waste Your Sorrows: Finding God’s Purpose in the Midst of Pain by Paul E. Billheimer.

waste your sorrows billheimer

Compare the Billheimer quote to the Wurmbrand one. Notice any similarities? Billheimer’s book was published 9 years before Wurmbrand’s. Now, I don’t like jumping to conclusions, but it’s entirely clear that Wurmbrand plagiarized Billheimer’s work. He also made an absolute fool of himself in the process. To provide evidence for his critique of Karl Marx, Richard Wurmbrand quoted from books that he himself had never read. In doing so, he not only highlights the fact that he knows nothing about the concept that he has chosen as the topic for his book, he also proves that he is a cheat with a poor eye for details.

So if he didn’t read the Satanic Bible, what texts did he read during his research for his book? Well, at one point in his text, he directs his readers to Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain for more information on occultism in Russia. That particular book was one of the worst I have ever read, but it’s the kind of book that this Wurmbrand guy considers trustworthy.

 

Two of Wurmbrand’s trustworthy sources

Psychic Discoveries was bad, so bad in fact that I referred to it as both a “horrendous pile of nonsense” and “a load of shite” in my review, but it’s really only guilty of being boring and unconvincing. You come away from a book like that pitying its authors rather than disliking them. If you want the really infuriating stuff, you’ve got to look towards the religious nutjobs. The most popular post I’ve ever done on this blog was about a book called Michelle Remembers. That book made me really angry. It’s about a mad woman who claimed that she had been a victim of Satanic ritual abuse as a child. It has been proven to be complete and utter bullshit on many counts. It’s nothing more than the sinister fantasies of a sex-pervert with a low IQ. Hey, guess what! Richard Wurmbrand bought it hook, line and sinker, and he quotes extensively from that book of absolute garbage. Not only that though; the quotations that he uses are from one of the most cringeworthy and ridiculous sections of the book, the Devil’s nursery rhymes. Anybody who has ever done a lick of research on Satanism would be able to tell that the entirety of Michelle Remembers is rubbish, but even the most gullible Christian should have a hard time swallowing the notion of the Devil singing childish rhymes to a bunch of evil Canadians. It’s not a problem for Wurmbrand though. He unquestioningly presents it as damning evidence in his case against Karl Marx.

Towards the end of the book, he also mentions the whole “if you play Stairway to Heaven backwards…” thing. I couldn’t understand why he did this in a book about Karl Marx, but he did.

I haven’t really said much about the central idea of his book, but I really don’t feel like I need to. I have successfully shown that Richard Wurmbrand was completely oblivious to both the nature and realities of Satanism and argumentative writing. There is absolutely no direct evidence for the claims that he makes. He never read some of the source material on Satanism from which he quotes, and I have no real reason to presume that his research on Marx was any more thorough. Other sources that he chose to include in his book are completely bogus. Throughout the book, Wurmbrand comes across as gullible, arrogant, hysteric, and paranoid; the guy was clearly mentally ill. He had had a tough life, spending 14 years in communist prisons (There’s a poorly animated movie about this on youtube if you’re interested), so it’s understandable that he wasn’t a fan of Marx. I hope that the process of writing this book was therapeutic for him.

Well, there you go. Marx and Satan, what a wonderful way to celebrate 3 years of this blog. I’ve reviewed 177 books so far, and I have no plans on stopping soon.