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.

How now, you secret, black and midnight hags?

macbeth demonology jamesThe Demonology of King James I – Edited by Donald Tyson
Llewellyn Worldwide – 2011 (Originally published 1597)

King James (yes, the Bible lad) was a dirty cunt. Not only was he the British monarch responsible for the plantation of Ulster, he was also an insane person who thought that the devil was on a personal vendetta against him. His ludicrous beliefs led to changes in the anti-witchcraft laws of his day, and these changes were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people.

It all started when the boat that was carrying his fifteen year old Danish bride to England was caught in a storm and forced to stop off in Norway. He decided to head over there himself to escort her home, but along the way he also encountered shitty weather. After meeting his child wife in Norway, the couple headed back to Denmark, where James heard tell that two witches had confessed to causing the storms that had hindered him so.

When he got back to Scotland, he heard stories about local witches that had originated in the confessions of a woman named Gillis Duncan. Gillis was a maid who had been spotted leaving her master’s house during the middle of the night. The master of the house was upset by this and he took it upon himself to torture poor Gillis until she admitted that she was a witch. Her confessions implicated dozens of others, and this led to the North Berwick Witch Trials that were recounted in the 1591 pamphlet titled Newes from Scotland.

6 years later, James wrote his Daemonologie (or Demonology). It’s a treatise in the form of a Socratic dialogue on the existence of witchcraft, and, in truth, it’s very boring. James firmly believed in the existence and absolute guilt of witches, and while he was certainly well read, his reasoning is tedious, flawed and often ridiculous. The text is filled with all of the Biblical references and victim shaming that you’d expect from a witch hunting manual. James believed that God would not allow innocent people to be punished for witchcraft, so it was better to accuse too many than too few. Take a moment there to think about how horrible and dangerous that idea is… All together, Jimmy comes across as an arrogant, know-it-all, dickhead, and reading this text was a pain in the neck.

daemonologie

That being said, this edition of the work, translated, compiled, edited and introduced by Donald Tyson is really nice. It includes both the original and modernized versions of Demonology and Newes from Scotland, and the annotations are very comprehensive. I’ve seen other, fancy hardback editions of Daemonologie, but this is definitely the one I would recommend for anyone who actually intends to read and comprehend the text. I’m planning on reading more of Tyson’s work in the near future.

 

I’d like to think that this won’t have been the first story of witches fucking over the king of Scotland that my readers have encountered. James had been King of Scotland since 1567, but he was coronated King of England in 1603. It was three years after this that Macbeth was first performed. James was supposedly a patron of Shakespeare, and some people believe that Shakespeare actually wrote Macbeth for King James. James apparently believed that he was a descendant of Banquo, and although Banquo meets with a grisly end, you’ll remember that his descendants ascended the throne and ruled for generations.

When it comes to the history of horror fiction, I don’t think too much attention can be paid to Macbeth. It’s filled with decrepit castles, frightening visions, witches, ghosts, demonic apparitions, murder and evil. Also, it’s difficult for the modern reader to imagine just how scary this play would have been to an audience of people who were completely convinced in the existence and power of witches. It’s literally my job to babble on about Shakespeare, and because I don’t yet get paid for writing this blog, I’ll hold off from saying much more about him for now.

osculum anus holeKiss the Ring

I expected my life to calm down a bit after Christmas, but I feel like I’m busier than ever now. Hopefully I’ll get a few more posts out soon.

Trapped in a Dream of the Necronomicon

dead names necronomicon simon
Dead Names: The Dark History of the Necronomicon – Simon

Avon – 2006

Before reading the Simon Necronomicon, I had never entertained the idea that it might be an authentic text, and I was quite surprised when I discovered that many individuals believe that it is truly an ancient spellbook. I gave the matter some consideration, and the only real evidence that I could see for the book’s authenticity was “how much it sucks”. Despite the title and the framing story, there’s very little Lovecraftian material in here. Sure, it’s really only a few oul’ sigils and a muddle of Babylonian mythology. If somebody was going to hoax out a Necronomicon, literature’s most infamous book of twisted black magic, you’d think that they’d make it a bit nastier. As it turns out, Simon, the chap who edited the Necronomicon feels the same way.

Dead Names begins with the expanded story of how the Necronomicon was discovered and published. This tale involves the Kennedy assassinations, the Son of Sam murders, warring covens of witches, mysterious suicides and a bizarre gang of questionably consecrated priests. We’re lashing conspiracies onto conspiracies here, but A) Simon provides evidence for some of his claims, and B) I love conspiracies. This part was pretty good; it felt like reading a more sinister version of the Da Vinci Code. Really, the most disappointing part of the story was getting to the end and realizing that I was only halfway through the book.

You see, unfortunately for everyone, Simon is not just expanding the mythos of the Necronomicon in Dead Names, he is also trying to prove its authenticity. Approximately half of this book is taken up with Simon’s arguing that the Necronomicon is a legitimate ancient text. I could go into explaining his reasoning, but ughh, who fucking cares? (If you do care and you want to witness Simon getting pwned, I strongly suggest checking out the blog of Simon’s arch-nemesis.)

The story of an ancient Babylonian manuscript showing up in New York is unlikely, but it’s totally possible. The story of an ancient manuscript with the same name as a fictional book invented by a horror writer, a text that has clearly been written by a “Mad Arab” who perfectly fits the description of the author in the horror writer’s stories, is far less likely, especially when said writer repeatedly claimed that the manuscript was entirely fictional. Simon says that Lovecraft had read the Necronomicon; Lovecraft said the Necronomicon was “fakery”, “fictitious”, “100% fiction” and “merely a figment of my own imagination”.

Simon has tried to keep his identity secret for the past 40 years because he supposedly came by the book illegally and doesn’t want to deal with the consequences. Why would Lovecraft have repeatedly denied the existence of the same book? Had he come across it illegally too? Why did he write so much about it if he didn’t want people to associate it with him?

Unfortunately, there are no good reasons to believe that the Necronomicon is real. Simon’s arguments are lame, selective and unconvincing, and reading the latter half of this book felt like Chariots of the Gods or some other wishy-washy work of pseudo-academia. I mean, to prove his points, Simon repeatedly references a book by one of the author’s of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, perhaps the most infamously debunked book of conspiracies ever written. Come on Simon, you’re fooling no-one.

Much like the book that its about, Dead Names would have been far better if the author had gone all out horror show. The origin story of the Necronomicon given here features all the shady ingredients necessary to make a truly entertaining weird tale, but Simon constrains himself with a set of unconvincing arguments that do nothing but make him look like a fool. By the end of the book, you start to feel embarrassed for the lad. I mean, nobody over the age of 15 believes the book is real, and Simon himself knows better than anyone that it’s not real, yet he gets into petty squabbles with people over its authenticity. At a certain point it seems to become more important for him to appear smarter than his critics than it does for him to provide evidence that the Necronomicon is real. It’s like watching an internet troll forget that they’re trolling.

To give the Devil his due

amelia wilson the devilThe Devil – Amelia Wilson
Barrons – 2002
I bought this book for 2 dollars from a thrift store years ago. I finally picked it off the shelf recently because it’s short and I needed a break from a very long, dry Gothic novel that I have been reading. It met my expectations but did not exceed them. The paper it’s printed on is nice, and there are lots of cool pictures, but it contains very little information that I haven’t come across before.

The first half of the book goes into the origin of Satan as a devil. It discusses Biblical pseudepigrapha, folklore and Zoroastrianism. I liked this part, and was pleased at the level of detail it went into. Wilson clearly does not like how Christians have turned Lucifer into the bad guy.

ride to the sabbathRide to the Sabbath!

Next up, there is a section on the witch trials. Nothing special. This is followed by a short and very disappointing chapter on Satan’s place in modern society. There’s a page or two on films featuring the Devil, and very cursory glance at how he has influenced modern music. The Church of Satan is mentioned, but the author doesn’t attempt to explain its philosophy. There is one reference that quite irritated me. It reads; “One figure who has stirred a lot of controversy, is Aleister Crowley, a renowned ceremonial magician and expert in the occult who wrote extensively on the subject. There is no hard evidence that Crowley was in fact a Satanist, although many people who do consider themselves Satanists have read his books.” That’s all the book has to say about Crowley. There is absolutely no explanation as to why Wilson thought it important to mention him, and the wording of her reference suggests that Crowley was a Satanist because many Satanists have read his books. By the same logic, drinking water and breathing air are also Satanic. If you want to read a decent book on Satan’s place in modern culture, check out Gavin Baddeley’s Lucifer Rising.

hell
Wow, this is the most boring post I’ve written in quite a while. In fairness to myself though, I wasn’t give much to work with. This book wasn’t absolutely awful, but there are plenty of far more insightful texts on the same topic. I’ll keep it only because I enjoy filling my bookshelves with books that mention the devil in their titles.
devil books

Die Faustbücher

faust demon 17It was long ago that I first noticed the big can of worms labelled ‘Faust’ on the shelf of literature,  and despite an occasional peek inside, I was never certain of the precise nature of its gooey contents. Recently, I felt compelled to make a more thorough investigation, but after determining to take down the curious container in order to examine its contents, it slipped off the shelf, smashed on my head, and covered me with its slime.

faust demon 13The (very cool) illustrations throughout this post are taken from Doktor Johannes Faust’s Magia Naturalis et Innaturalis (Dreifacher Höllenzwang, letztes Testament and Siegelkunst), the Faustian Grimoire.

The Faustian legend, the story of a man selling his soul to the devil for a few years of power and wisdom, has so many potential sources that it is quite impossible to say precisely where it came from. The character of Faust draws on several real individuals including Simon Magus, Agrippa of Nettesheim, Paracelsus and the actual Johann Georg Faust, a travelling German magician who lived in the 16th century. However, as fascinating a topic as this is, I don’t want to pretend that I have any novel ideas on the origin of the legend. My goal for this post is more to outline and examine some of the major strains of the rather complicated textual history of Faust. The Faustian legend has long been considered an appropriate topic for serious academic study, but despite, if not because of, the quantity of writing about this legend, it can be quite tricky to distinguish between the different types of books about Faust. I’m going to look specifically at Faustian chapbooks, the plays that immortalized the legend, and some Faustian grimoires.

faust demon 16

The first printed versions of the Faust story appeared in German chapbooks in the late 16th century. The very first and seemingly most popular of these Faustbuchs was titled Historia von D. Johann Fausten, dem weitbeschreyten Zauberer und Schartzkünstler or The History of the Damnable Life and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus. The first widely read edition of this text was published in 1587 in Frankfurt by Johann Spies, but a slightly different, shorter version exists in manuscript form. New editions of this Faustbuch almost always contained additions to the tale (usually appropriations of other folk tales), and as the Wolfenbüttel Manuscript dates from the same time as the Spies edition yet contains a more concise version of the tale, it is assumed to be closer to the original text. (We do not know the origin or author of the original text.) The Spies version was translated into English in 1592, and it was almost definitely this translation that introduced the story of Faust to Christopher Marlowe. (I got my info on the Wolfenbüttel Manuscript here.)

I read the online translation of the Wolfenbüttel Manuscript and the 1592, English translation of the Spies edition of the Faustbuch.  Both tell the standard story of Dr. Faustus. (I’m going to assume that my readers have some familiarity with the legend, but for those who need a reminder, it’s basically the tale of a smart lad who gets bored, sells his soul to the Devil for 24 years of servitude, spends the rest of his life either causing mischief or having theological debates with his Hellservant, and eventually comes to regret his decision just before he has his body torn apart and strewn in shite.) The Faustbuch gives more detail on some of the events that are only briefly alluded to in other more popular versions of the tale, including Faust’s trips to Hell and Outer-Space, but the sections in here that Goethe and Marlowe chose to omit completely are chapters in which Faust plays the role of a folk hero, uniting lovers or stealing wine from the wealthy to give to poor students. There was one part where he comes across four other magicians who are performing a party trick that involves them cutting off their heads and reattaching them. Faust gets jealous and interferes with their trick so that one of their heads becomes unattachable. It really reminded me that episode of the X-Files where the magician’s head fell off. The other memorable Faustian rarity included in here is an episode in which Faust temporarily curses a man’s penis with flaccidity to prevent him from making love to another fellow’s wife.

The manuscript version has only 44 chapters, while the Spies version has 63. These extra chapters tell of Faust seeking paradise from a mountaintop, explaining the nature of thunder, casting a spell on some drunks to keep their mouths open forever, showing the Duke of Anholt a big magical castle, getting Mephistopheles to summon him 7 beautiful women so that he can ride them, digging a tunnel to treasure guarded by a Hellish serpent, and a few other bits and pieces. Later editions of the Faustbuch doubtlessly contain more such additions, but I’m in no rush to seek them out.

And indeed many other chapbooks were printed about Faust, but they all seem to have been published in German and I haven’t been able to track down translations. Wikipedia mentions Das Wagnerbuch (1593), Das Widmann’sche Faustbuch (1599), Das Pfitzer’sche Faustbuch (1674), and Faustbuch des Christlich Meynenden (1725). I haven’t read any of these, but I presume that they are just slightly different tellings of the same story. Several of these texts, along with a bunch of Faustian grimoires, were assembled in a collection called Das Kloster by a guy called Johann Scheible between 1845 and 1849, but again, I don’t think this has ever been translated in its entirety.

marlowe faustThe Tragedy of Doctor Faustus: Norton Critical Edition – 2005
Christopher Marlowe

Marlowe’s play played a huge role in popularizing the legend amoungst English speaking audiences, and may still be the most popular version of the story. It was written between 1588 and 1593, but the earliest surviving text version of the play dates from 1604 (the so called A text). There’s also a longer version of the play, dating from 1616 (the B text). The B text spends more time making the Pope look like a dickhead, features slightly more on-stage devilry, goes into more detail on the Horny Knight subplot (not as interesting as you might think), and depicts a more gruesome end to Faustus. There’s also lots of small differences between the wording of the two texts. Both versions are considered canonical at this stage, and many printings of the play include the two of them.

Personally, I reckon the A text is probably the best place to start if you haven’t read anything else about Faust. (The additions in the B version are frivolous, and they upset the tone of the play in my opinion.) In the A text, Marlowe trims the folkish-fat from the Faustbuch, and while presenting an issue that demands contemplation, he doesn’t get bogged down in existentialism; as George Henry Lewis wrote, “The reader who opens ‘Faustus’ under the impression that he is about to see a philosophical problem treated philosophically, will have mistaken both the character of Marlowe’s genius and of Marlowe’s epoch.” This is the reduced nonsense version of the tale and genuinely one of my favourite pieces of literature. I beseech you to take the time to read it if you have not already done so.

Marlowe 2nd edition.jpgTitle page of 2nd edition of the B version of the text.

 I first encountered Marlowe’s Faust in a class on Renaissance literature when I was 20. I had a part-time job in a carpark at the time and I managed to read the two versions of the play over the course of my Sunday shift. It felt mighty good to get paid for reading a book (although the essay that I wrote about the play afterwards was absolutely rubbish). 10 years have passed, and as it so happens, I managed to reread the B text while in work today.  It still felt good.

The popularity of Marlowe’s Faust led to several other dramatic treatments of the play including William Mountfort’s The Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, made into a farce (1697) and John Rich’s The Necromancer, or Harlequin Dr. Faustus (1723), but these were mere pantomimes. The texts are online, but I have spent the last month reading nothing but different versions of the story of Faust, so I’m not going to bother with them right now. The next important development in the story of the story of Faust comes in the 19th century when Goethe completes his version of the tale after working on it for almost 60 years.

faust demon 4It is quite certain that Goethe was familiar with at least some of the Faustian Grimoires that were kicking about Germany at the time. (Although this image almost definitely dates from after his death.)

While there are two versions of Marlowe’s rendition of the story of Faust, there are two parts to Goethe’s. (There are several early versions and drafts kicking about too, but unlike Marlowe’s, there is some certainty about which is the definitive version of Goethe’s play.) The first versions of Goethe’s Faust appeared in the early 1770s, but the first version of a distinct Part One was published in 1808. It was revised 2 decades later. The second part was published in 1832, a few months after Goethe’s death. He had only just finished it when he died.

faust part oneFaust: Part One – Penguin Classics Edition – Translated by Philip Wayne (1971)
Faust: First Part – Bantam World Drama – Translated by Peter Salm (1967)

Part One is a relatively straightforward version of the first part of the tale of Faust. The biggest difference here, and this doesn’t really come into play until Part Two, is that Goethe’s Faust doesn’t make a deal with the Devil; he makes a bet with him. Faust bets Mephistopheles that nothing the Devil can offer him will be able to provide him with any real sense of satisfaction. Goethe also introduces Gretchen, a corporeal love interest for the Doctor, and it is Faust’s betrayal of Gretchen that makes this play a tragedy.

Goethe’s Faust is considered by many to be the single finest accomplishment of German literature. The entire work is full of allusions to mythology, philosophy and 19th century German politics, and although Part One seems very straightforward in comparison to Part Two, it still contains some rather weird bits that are hard to make sense of. Believe me, I’ve had to read Midsummer Night’s Dream more times than I can count, so when I saw the section titled “Walpurgis Night’s Dream” I thought I’d breeze through it. Let’s just say that I was very wrong… Also, Goethe’s Faust is considered a Closet Drama (a play that is not actually meant to be performed), and while it looks like a play, it reads more like an epic poem. Because of its complicated poetic nature, any translation is bound to be infinitely inferior to the original. Thankfully, one of the versions of Part One that I own is a straightforward prose translation. I read this in conjunction with chapter summaries online to make sure that I was getting the most out of the work.

faust demon 5

I first read Part One a few years ago, but I went over it again for this post. Directly afterwards, I picked up the copy of Part Two that I had nabbed from a free books table at school last year. To my great disgust, the translator had attempted to put the whole thing in rhyming verse. I went to the library the next day and took out a few different translations. They all rhymed. It turns out that the rhyming scheme and meters used in Part Two are actually relevant to its plot; hence the lack of prose translations. I judged the 2009 Penguin translation by David Constantine to be the best one. It contains brief chapter summaries and decent notes. I also found these online chapter summaries and notes by Bruce McLennan to be extremely helpful in making sense of what was happening.

faust part twoFaust: Part Two – Penguin Classics Edition – Translated by Philip Wayne (1971)
Faust: Part II – Penguin Classics Edition – Translated by David Constantine (2005)
Faust I & II – Princeton – Translated by Stuart Atkins (1994)

Part Two of Goethe’s Faust steers well away from the traditional Faust story. Here, Faust falls so madly in love with the conjured phantom of Helen of Troy that he travels to the underworld of Ancient Greece so that he can be with her. He is accompanied by Mephistopheles and a Homunculus created by his friend Wagner. (I wondered if Goethe, a German Freemason might have encountered the mysterious Die Sphinx, but it was actually published 41 years after his death!) Things get a bit awkward because Mephistopheles is a Christian devil (I mean a Devil according to Christianity, not a Devil that goes to mass), and devils don’t have any jurisdiction in the Greek underworld. The three lads embark on separate journeys of self discovery and each encounter a bunch of different, often rather esoteric, characters from Greek mythology. This is fairly heavy going; I’m decently familiar with Greek mythology, but I would have been completely lost without the footnotes.

goethe and defoeI noticed that this shitty version of Faust Part Two has the exact same cover as another shitty book in my collection. (Image is Eugène Delacroix’s Mephistopheles Over Wittenberg, 1839)

mephistophiel
Goethe’s Mephistopheles (and his Homunculus) seem to be extensions of Faust’s personality rather than separate characters. (I’m sure there have been essays written comparing these three characters to Plato’s tripartite soul, Freud’s Id, Ego and Superego and probably even the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.) Goethe’s Faust isn’t a warning to the curious; it’s a deeply symbolic and philosophic exploration of virtue, evil and human nature. I’m sure the original German text is far more enjoyable, but Constantine’s translation is still a rewarding (if very challenging) read.

“These metaphysics of magicians,
And necromantic books are heavenly;
Lines, circles, scenes, letters, and characters;
Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires.”
Marlowe’s Faustus – Act I, Scene I

Magical books play a role in all of the different versions of the Faust story that I have thus mentioned, and it was only a matter of time before followers of the legend began seeking/counterfeiting these diabolical grimoires. There are many grimoires attributed to Faust, but like everything else relating to this legend, they’re mostly in German. The most well known is probably Magia naturalis et innaturalis, oder dreifacher Höllenzwang, letztes Testament und Siegelkunst. Like the other Faustian grimoires, this work was supposedly written in the early 16th century, but the earliest edition dates from a few hundred years later. (This one was supposedly from 1505, but it was published in 1849.)

black raven
Magia naturalis et innaturalis features the above image of a black bird right at its beginning, and you might read online that this image has supposedly led to the book becoming known as The Black Raven. However, looking for a translation Faust’s Black Raven will almost certainly lead you to a pdf version of very short Faustian grimoire titled ‘Doctor Johannes Faust’s Magical Art and Miracle Book or The Black Raven or also called The Threefold Coercion of Hell’. I’ve seen a few other bloggers complain that this translation isn’t accurate and that it’s far too short. While I can’t comment on the accuracy of the translation, I can say for certain that this is not supposed to be a translation of Magia naturalis et innaturalis. This short document is actually a translation of a grimoire called Dr. Johann Faustens Miracul-Kunst- und Wunder-Buch oder der schwarze Rabe auch der Dreifache Höllenzwang genannt that was included in Scheible’s Das Kloster (original text here).

original black raven.jpgThe Black Raven of Dr. Faust’s Wonderbook

Owen Davies, in his Grimoires: A History of Magical Texts, refers to what sounds like yet another text featuring the curious bird, and so it seems that that the Black Raven is actually a subgenre of Faustian grimoire rather than a specific text.

Magia naturalis et innaturalis has been translated, but these translations have been put out in small runs, and I haven’t found a copy online. I really doubt that the text lives up to the standard of its accompanying images anyway; it looks like a Kabbalistic nightmare. I did read through the translation of the shorter Black Raven, but reading it wasn’t nearly as entertaining as trying to figure out where it came from. People distinguish between Faustian grimoires and Solomonic grimoires, but this read like a shit version of the Grand Grimoire: Draw a circle on the floor, say a few spells, howiye Mephisto.

An assortment of Faustian Demons from Magia naturalis et innaturalis

Well that about covers what I wanted to say. Hopefully this post will help clear things up for anyone doing preliminary research on the texts of Faust legend. There are of course many more books on, about and supposedly by Faust, but I have limited this post to the Faustian Chapbooks or Faustbooks, the major dramatic representations, and the grimoires attributed to the learnéd doctor. Although the legend of Faust is distinctly satanic and deals with the occult, allusions to the legend and the Faustian theme are to be encountered infrequently by anyone with an interest in literature. I hope it will be a long time before I write another dedicated Faustpost, but you are quite sure to come across references to this legend in many of my future posts. To conclude then, I want to warn you that if you’re seriously considering making an infernal pact with the Prince of Hell but are worried about the consequences… don’t hesitate. Remember that Goethe’s Faust got away with it. Open a vein and sign up immediately. You’ll be fine.

Oh, and happy Easter!

LUDOVICO MARIA SINISTRARI: PART TWO (Demon Lovers)

demoniality-liseux-version
To quickly summarize what I’ve already written about Ludovico Maria Sinistrari: he was a Franciscan Friar who wrote a book that was basically a list of all of the sins that he could imagine. I wrote a lengthy blog post explaining Sinistrari’s beliefs about sodomy, and while I believe it was an informative and insightful post, it may have seemed slightly out of place in this blog. I mean, isn’t this supposed to be a blog about Satan and the paranormal and spooky stuff? Surely sodomy isn’t very spooky? Well, no, but the chapter on Sodomy from Sinistrari’s De Delictis is one of the two sections from that book that is widely available in translation, and I don’t like half-assing things. The other, more infamous section, which we are going to look at today, fits far more comfortably within the context of this blog; it is a chapter on Demoniality. Demoniality, for those of you who don’t know, is the act of having sex with demons. Oh yeah, now we’re getting back on track.

The story of the manuscript of Demoniality is as interesting as its contents. In 1872, a French bookseller named Isidore Liseax spent a short holiday in England rummaging about in some antique booksellers. In one of these stores, he found a short manuscript titled “Dæmonialitas” and bought it for sixpence. He took it back to France, translated it, and published it 3 years later. It wasn’t until I read an essay on Sinistrari by Alexandra Nagel that I realised why this story sounded so familiar. Remember what I wrote about the opening to Bulwer Lytton’s Zanoni?

Liseux had never heard of Sinistrari, and he spent a long time trying to figure out who had written the text he’d purchased. Its author was listed as Ludovicus Maria of Ameno, but Liseux wasn’t able to find out any reliable information about such a man, and it wasn’t until he serendipitously opened a copy of the list of writers banned by the Vatican to just the right page that he discovered that this Friar of Ameno was the same person as the author of De Delictis. De Delictis had been unbanned for more than a century at this stage, and while it wasn’t widely available, Liseux managed tracked down a copy with a little persistence. Once he understood the nature of that work, he was certain that his manuscript on demoniality belonged to it. It followed the same structure as the other entries, and indeed De Delictis contained a chapter on demoniality. Liseux’s copy, however, while it started and ended the same way as the chapter in De Delictis, was largely expanded. The chapter in De Delictis is a mere 5-6 pages long, while Liseux’s manuscript was more than 80 pages. Liseux, by a stroke of extreme good luck, had found and paid next to nothing for the uncut edition of a paper on sexual intercourse with devils and spirits, the cut version of which was included in a book that was banned by the Vatican, the text of which had been written by a perverted, 17th century, Franciscan Friar. Holy quaint and curious volumes of forbidden lore!

There has been some discussion about the authenticity of the text. Why wasn’t the full text of Demoniality included in De Delictis? (Remember that De Delictis had actually only been banned for what it said about the qualifications of Judges, not for its details on sexual depravities. The lurid details in the apocryphal Demoniality pale in comparison to ‘the Doctrine of the Clitoris’ as laid out in the canonical chapter on sodomy.) Also, if you read Liseux’s introduction to his English translation of the text, several discrepancies arise. Alexandra Nagel has done an impressive job of listing and accounting for these discrepancies in her essay “Tracing the mysterious facts in Isidore Liseux’ publication of De Daemonialitate by Ludovico M. Sinistrari”, and if you’re interested in the details, her paper is better researched and more informative than what you’re going to read here. Suffice to say, the expanded version of Demoniality was probably intended to be included in a later edition of De Delictis that was never published. While I believe Nagel’s conclusion that Sinistrari was in fact the author, I wouldn’t be terribly disappointed if he wasn’t. This is a book about fucking monsters (and I use ‘fucking’ here as a verb, not an adjective). Does it really matter who wrote it?

Liseux found the manuscript in 1872, published the first French edition in 1875 and followed with an English Translation in 1879. This translation was popular enough to convince him to publish another section of De Delictis, that on sodomy, a decade later. One of the readers of Liseux’s translation of Demoniality was our old friend, Montague Summers. Summers was thoroughly impressed with the contents of the work but not the translation. In 1927, he re-translated Demoniality from the original Latin and wrote an introduction and set of notes to go with the text. I own a copy of Summer’s translation, but Liseux’s is available online. Summers spells Sinistrari’s first name ‘Lodovico’ (here and in his other works), but I haven’t seen that spelling anywhere else.

demoniality-summers-versionDemoniality (The Montague Summers Edition) – Lodovico Maria Sinistrari
Dover Occult – 1989 (This translation first published in 1927)

The book starts off explaining that demoniality is a separate offence to bestiality. Bestiality is having sex with an animal, but while demons are alive, they are not entirely corporeal and therefore don’t really count as animals. Sinistrari knows what demons are not, but it’s trickier to say what exactly they are. He distinguishes between evil demons who only fuck people to bring them into the power of Satan and a far less dangerous class of spirits who only fuck because they’re horny. These other spirits are composed of incubi and succubi. (Incubi are male spirits who fuck females, and succubi are female spirits who fuck men.) Surprisingly, most of what Sinistrari has to say is on the less malevolent, horny spirits, and the result is that this text feels more like a book on cryptozoology than a book on traditional demonology.

succubusThis succubus is a bit little. That man is a nonce.

In fact, if like me, you have an interest in books about cryptozoology/the paranormal/the Fortean, you’re very likely come across references to this text. Sinistrari’s descriptions of fuckable spirits are broad enough that they seem to fit many of my favourite monsters. Sinistrari argues, with evidence from Saint Anthony, that the gods, centaurs, fauns and nymphs of Paganism were all real entities and that the stories of them seducing humans were actually true. Montague Summers, in the introduction to his translation of Demoniality, argues that both the Jinns of Islam and the fairies and leprechauns from W.B. Yeats’ Celtic Twilight (an awesome book) fit Sinistrari’s decription perfectly. Hmmmmm, what other group of unproven creatures have been compared to fairies? I believe that our old pal, Whitley Strieber argued that his visitors had a lot in common with the fairy abductors of celtic lore. If that’s not enough for you, Strieber actually presents Sinistrari’s ideas as evidence for his visitors in Communion; in fairness, the similarities between stories of alien abductions and visits from incubbi/succubi are striking. Dmitri Bayanov presents ideas from Sinistrari’s Demoniality in his essay Historical Evidence for the Existence of Relict Hominoids. A relict hominoid is basically a Bigfoot. Let’s just take a moment to acknowledge then that Demoniality is actually a book about sexual intercourse with Satanic demons, the Great God Pan, leprechauns, genies, fairies, aliens and sasquatches. I can’t say for certain that Sinistrari specifically intended for his text to be interpreted this way, but given his reasoning and willingness to accept the authority of other writers, I really don’t think he would have had a problem with this interpretation.

priest-having-sex-with-bigfoot-an-alien-and-a-demonIt’s all good, baby!

According to Sinistrari, Incubi and Succubi are surprisingly like people. They have physical needs and desires; they eat smells (solid food would be too much for them), and they fuck each other, people and animals. These spirits are endowed with both free-will and morality, and Sinistrari even suggests that they might have their own form of organized religion and worship. They are more spirity than humans and hence also more spiritual and closer to God. The fact that they are closer to God means that it’s as bad for them to have sex with us as it is for us to have sex with animals.

This weird logic means that for a human to have sex with an incubus or succubus is actually a dignifying rather than a shameful experience. Sinistrari never openly condones sex with this class of spirits, but it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t consider it to be all that bad. In terms of sin, he puts demoniality in the category of pollution. This means its comparable to getting or giving oral sex or a single finger up the bum. You might get an extra Hail Mary as penance after confessing it, but that probably wouldn’t stop you from doing it again.

Shagging one of Lucifer’s Henchmen is a different story; doing so is only ever done to improve your relationship with the Dark Lord. Satan’s malevolent spirit-servants are incorporeal and must either create a body out of filth or possess a corpse in order to be able to fuck. Also, they feel no joy when they’re getting rode. If you shag one of these, you are going to Hell. The sexual act itself would only count as pollution, but as it also serves as a contract with Satan, it becomes a damnable offence. The problem is that most people don’t know the difference between a friendly neighbourhood succubi and a cacodaemon, and just as attempted murder is as bad as murder, attempted sex with an evil demon is just as bad as sex with an evil demon. This means that a minor fling with an amorous Incubus could potentially land a person in as much trouble as bending over for the cock of Asmodeus. Now you know the difference, I hope you’ll think to look before you leap!

Another thing to be careful of is the way that spirits can alter their form. Regardless of their true appearance, demons seem to be able to appear in whatever form is most pleasing to their lover. This shapeshifting can get their lovers even deeper into sin. If a demon was to have sex with a man whilst appearing as that man’s sister, the man would be guilty of incest as well as demoniality. If the demon was to appear as that man’s dog, the man would be guilty of bestiality. Even if you knew full well that your lover was a demon and ask you asked it to look like a corpse for 10 minutes, you’d soon be guilty of necrophilia. Basically, roleplaying counts. You’re already in trouble for fucking a spirit; don’t make it worse by getting kinky.

But wait; wasn’t Sinistrari’s main problem with sodomy that it was sexual activity that didn’t lead to procreation? How is having sex with airy spirits any worse? Surely that doesn’ lead to procreation either! Well, actually…

Haven’t you read the Bible? Remember the Nephilim from Genesis? The Nephilim were a race of giants that were created when the Sons of God (fallen angels) mated with the daughters of men. Remember Jesus Christ. Who was his Da again? Now if he Bible contains stories of Spirits mating with humans, you’d better believe it’s possible. So how do they do it? Babies come when a penis sperms into a vagina; how can a spirit be expected to do this? Well, it used to be assumed that the spirits would turn into a succubus, fuck a man, save his cum, turn back into an incubus, fuck a woman and then fill her with the cum that they had taken, but there are a few problems with this theory. The first being that the resultant baby wouldn’t actually be demonspawn; it would be a perfectly normal human baby whose parents had never met. Another problem that Sinistrari notes is the fact that sperm rapidly loses its potency once its outside the body. Semi-corporeal demons would have no way of keeping the gip warm during the interlude between extracting it and injecting it. There’s other problems here too that I’m sure you can work out, and Sinistrari concludes that demons must cum their own cum and that this cum is capable of impregnating humans.

incubusAn Incubus works his magic. Why is he standing in a circle of eggs?

Sinistrari claims that Romulus and Remus, Plato, Caesar Augustus, Merlin, and “that damnable Heresiarch yclept Martin Luther” were all the offspring of spirits. You’ll notice that with the exception of Martin ‘the Proddy’ Luther’, these were all great men. That’s because spirits are closer to God than humans. The only problem is that human/spirit offspring are the same as horse/donkey offspring; they may get the beneficial aspects of both their parents, but mules can’t reproduce. Augustus had a daughter (who died very young), and Romulus may have had a son named Aollios and a daughter named Prima (such claims have been contradicted), but as far as I know all the other lads mentioned were either infertile, gay or just didn’t fuck. As mad as Sinistrari’s claims might seem to us, there was research and twisted, but apparent, logic behind them.

What about the Nephilim though? Why is it that demonspawn used to be giants, but modern day demonspawn are regular sized? Well there are four elements, right? So there must also be four kinds of spirits: air spirits, fire spirits, water spirits and earth spirits. (As silly as this might sound, it probably made decent sense to people living in the 17th century.) The spirits that fucked the daughters of men were air and fire spirits (again this is logical; angels came from the sky), and because fire and air are the more expansive elements, their offspring, the Nephilim were giant. After the flood, the fire and air spirits didn’t want to come down to Earth anymore because it was too wet for them, and so the only spirits left to fuck humans were the smaller, more condensed, water and Earth spirits. When you follow Sinistrari’s reasoning, it becomes apparent that he was actually a very smart guy living in a very dumb age.

demoniality-title-pageThe subtitle of the work, “A treatise wherein is shown that there are in existence on earth rational creatures besides man, endowed like him with a body and soul, that are born and die like him, redeemed by our Lord Jesus-Christ, and capable of receiving salvation or damnation”, has a nice ring to it; don’t you think? It just slides off the tongue.

I have plenty more to say about Sinistrari, but I’ve already written more than 5000 words about him, and I doubt anyone is that interested. (If you ever want to chat about him, e-mail me or leave a comment!) Demoniality is genuinely one of the most interesting texts that I have come across, both for its history and content, and I’ve no doubt that I’ll be referring to it again. If you have an interest in demonology or cryptozoology, this is is a must-read. Both Demoniality and Peccatum Mutum are available online too, so you have no excuse other than being boring.

A Big Mistake…

dictionaries-of-witchcraft-and-demonologyDictionary of Demonology and Dictionary of Witchcraft – Collin De Plancy
(Edited, abridged and completely banjaxed by Wade Baskin)

Philosophical Library – 1965

My main reason for starting this blog was to share my thoughts and queries on the books I was reading. I had seen tumblr blogs that consisted of pictures of the kinds of books that I review here, but there was rarely any discussion on them. Goodreads usually has the books listed, but a lot of them are reviewless. There’s facebook groups that discuss books, but I generally find that their scope is either too broad or too specific for my tastes, and most of the users are insufferable imbeciles. I thought a blog to be the perfect medium to present my musings. The first book I reviewed was Wade Baskin’s translation of Collin De Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal.

Reading that review, you’ll notice that the focus wasn’t really on the content of the book; it was more a post about my confusion over its publication and edition. Well, yesterday, 3 years after buying my copy of the Dictionary of Witchcraft, my confusion over its publication was finally alleviated.

In my initial post, I discussed my suspicion that Baskin had split De Plancy’s text into two separate volumes; the Dictionary of Witchcraft and the Dictionary of Demonology. I noted that the likelihood of me ever reading the Dictionary of Demonology was minimal due to its high price and the low quality of its counterpart. I requested information concerning this issue in my blog post, but nobody responded. I tried to pretend that I didn’t care. I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter. For two years, I lay awake every night, wondering why Baskin had chosen to do such a thing. Why had he split the one text into two books? Had he really done so? Why was one more expensive than the other? Was it a much better book? Would the super-exciting entries in the Dictionary of Demonology make up for the dull entries in the Dictionary of Witchcraft? Had Baskin saved all the best bits for the half of the collection that I didn’t own? Eventually I decided that I was going to have to get my hands on a copy of the Dictionary of Demonology, regardless of the cost. I wasn’t going to be paying for the book; I was paying for peace of mind.

Can you imagine my excitement when I arrived home on Tuesday to find the book in my postbox?

Eagerly I dashed inside. I forced myself to get changed and pour a cup of tea before I opened the package. I wanted the moment to be perfect. I put on my fez and a crisp shirt, and took the Dictionary of Witchcraft off the shelf and placed it on the coffee table so that it could get a good view of the unboxing of its sister text. After carefully pulling the order slip from the packaging to make sure that this was the text I was expecting, I gingerly took the book from the envelope, and lo and behold!

It’s a slightly larger version of the other book. I don’t mean larger as in expanded; I mean the pages are a little bit bigger. Apart from the title, the Dictionary of Demonology is word-for-word the same book as the Dictionary of Witchcraft. It’s just an earlier edition.

Oh, I am fortune’s fool! I am a stupid dunce. I wear a nappy and pick my bum.

wtfOne of the very few differences between the books, this mysterious, apple-holding princess appears only on the cover of DoD.

Looking back, it seems pretty obvious that this would have been the case. There is a note in the Dictionary of Witchcraft that reads,’Originally published under the title Dictionary of Demonology’. I’m not sure how I overlooked this, although it might have something to do with the fact that this claim is erroneous. This book was actually ‘originally published’ under the title Dictionnaire Infernal!

Both books claim to have been published in 1965. Maybe the Dictionary of Demonology saw a limited run and turned out more popular than expected. Then the publishers could have decided to put out a second edition (using smaller paper to save on printing costs). This would account for the fact that Dictionary of Demonology is much harder to find than Dictionary of Witchcraft. (Also, the listed price on the book cover is $10 for DoD, but only 6 for DoW.)

suckyfontThe comic-sans title really screws with the tone of my bookshelf.

I know this post doesn’t really say anything about the content of either book (the earlier post speaks on that a little), but it has been immensely gratifying to write. I have wasted far more time and money on these books than is reasonable, but at least now I have answers. Maybe someday a person who is wondering about the difference between these two books will end up on this page, and my folly will be their deliverance. I can rest easy tonight, knowing that I might so aid the community.