Satan Wants You – Arthur Lyons Mayflower – 1972 (First published 1970)
I’ve probably read enough books about the history of witchcraft and Satanism, but this book is called Satan Wants You, and it has a naked babe drinking out of a human skull on the cover.
The first part of the book is the history of the Devil, witchcraft and the Black Mass. This was fine, but I don’t think I learned anything that I didn’t know already.
The second part of the book is a sociological analysis of Satanism. This book was written during the late 1960s, and Satanism back then was quite different to what it is today. The Church of Satan had only been operating for a few years, and none of the other Satanic groups discussed here are mentioned by name. I assume the approach of sociology has also changed quite a bit since this book was written. Honestly, the latter half of this book is outdated and extremely dull.
Satan Wants You is only 170 pages long, but it’s so boring that it took me a couple of weeks to force myself through it. It would be of interest to a person researching what people in the late 60s/early 70s thought about Satanism, but there are plenty of more accurate and/or more entertaining books on the same topic.
As I was writing this post, I started to wonder how many books on this subject I’ve read. I looked through my index page and realised it was more than I remembered.
The Hand of Cain – Martin Thomas Magnum Books – 1967 (Originally published 1966)
When I see “An Occult Masterpiece” with a severed hand on its cover on sale for less than the price of a cup of coffee, I buy that shit.
I’m just going to summarize this one as I don’t have much to say about it. It is pretty much exactly what I expected.
Matthew, a triplet, has a thing for his brother Alan’s fiancee. He gets into a fight with Alan and kills him. Their dad, Virgil, sees the murder taking place, but covers it up as he is a famous surgeon and doesn’t want the scandal of a murder to harm his reputation. He is so unemotional and practical in the moments after he sees one of his sons killing the other that I almost gave up on the book. I was soon glad I didn’t.
A few weeks later, Timothy, the good remaining triplet, is involved in a tragic accident and gets his hands chopped off. His dad drives him home from the scene of the accident and prepares to operate. When Matthew, the bad triplet, gets home, his dad drugs him, chops off his hands and then sews them onto the good son. I almost cheered at this part. Sick!
Matthew is pretty bummed out that his dad cut off his hands, but if he says or does anything about it, his dad will out him as a murderer.
One night, he is moping around a nightclub when he meets an Indian dwarf who offers to curse his family for £200. After smoking a “reefer” with Swami Barham Lal Sivasan. Matthew passes out and wakes up in his car wondering if it was all a dream.
Soon thereafter, Timothy rapes and murders his dead brother Alan’s old girlfriend, the one Matthew liked. After killing her, he smashes her head with a rock. Then he kills a drunk man for puking on him. Then he kills a child for scratching his car. Are his brother’s transplanted hands to blame or is it the curse? Timothy soon gets sloppy and Matthew sees him dumping one of the bodies.
When the Swami comes to Matthew to demand payment, Matthew decides to blackmail Timothy to get the money. He takes glee in the idea that Timothy will be paying for his own doom. Timothy, who has since raped and killed another girl, doesn’t want to pay up, so the brothers get into a fight. Matthew uses a broken glass to turn Tim’s face into a pile of mush while Tim is choking him to death. One again, Virgil walks in to see one of his sons dying at the hands of his brother. He’s pretty pissed off at this point, so he gets an ax and uses it to chop off his remaining child’s hands. After Tim has his hands chopped off for the second time, he bleeds to death beside the brother he just strangled.
I have absolutely no regrets about buying and reading this book. It was old fashioned in some regards. Women exist here solely to be preyed upon, and Indians exist to collect bus fares or curse people. It was definitely a bit nastier and exploitative than I expected, absolute trash really but definitely worth the 3 dollars I paid for it.
The Dark Lord: H.P. Lovecraft, Kenneth Grant, and the Typhonian Tradition in Magic Peter Levenda Ibis Press – 2013
Imagine your kid’s birthday is coming up. You go to the dollar store and buy one of those premade piñatas. You take it home and spend several days drawing intricate occult symbols all over it. The big day comes. Your kid can’t wait to smash the shit out of his piñata to get some sweeties. He notices the crap you’ve drawn on the outside, but he doesn’t really give a shit. He gives it a few good whacks and the piñata breaks open. Nothing falls out. You didn’t bother to fill it with sweets.
You are Peter Levenda, the piñata is this book, and I am the son who will never forgive you for this. The Dark Lord is 340 pages of meandering, pointless twoddle.
The book’s full title is The Dark Lord: H.P. Lovecraft, Kenneth Grant, and the Typhonian Tradition in Magic. I thought this was going to be an in depth look at how the eldritch entities of Lovecraft’s mythos have infiltrated modern occultism, not a fucking treatise on magical pussy juice. Admittedly, Levenda does address Lovecraft’s influence on Kenneth Grant, but despite the title, this book is far more concerned with Grant’s work than it is with Lovecraft’s. Although I had read one of Grant’s books before this one, I was not aware that he was so interested in vaginal discharge.
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s lay out some facts before I discuss the contents of this book further.
Lovecraft and Crowley never corresponded with each other. There’s an oft quoted reference to an English magician in one of Lovecraft’s stories, but no definitive proof that either man was aware of the other.
Kenneth Grant noticed that if you compare the vast amounts of writing these two guys left behind, you will find phrases and words that could be addressing the same events, ideas and entities. Grant wrote a series of books that argued that this is not coincidental.
Grant’s writing is notoriously difficult to read. Levenda himself compares it to the rambling of a person suffering from schizophrenia, so Levenda wrote a book trying to distill the parts pertinent to the motifs used in Lovecraft’s horror fiction from the kabbalistic, numerological fiddle faddle that takes up so much of Grant’s writing.
It’s not really fair to say that The Dark Lord is a book about Lovecraft’s influence on Grant. It’s more a book about similarities in their ideologies. Both were fascinated by the idea of a dark, chaotic gods that will drastically alter the course of human history. Lovecraft put these in his stories. Grant tried to devise ways to communicate with them.
The book goes into detail on different forms of magic and how these forms of magic are focused on the darker aspects of human nature. According to Grant, the ultimate goal of all forms of magic is to communicate with alien entities.
The best way to communicate with these entities apparently requires gallons of magical vaginal discharge. It turns out that there’s 16 different types of gee juice, each one having its own purpose in magical rituals. If you want to get the Dark Lord to assist you in your mystical endeavors, you’re going to need your wife or girlfriend to allow you to collect samples of her vaginal moisture every evening for a fortnight.
I’ve tried to be fair with this list. In the context of this blog, I don’t think any of the above statements are unfair or misleading.
I think I’d be a lot more polite when reviewing occult books if their authors didn’t have their heads stuffed so far up their own arses. At several points Levenda mentions how Grant references the “Schlangekraft recension of the Necronomicon“. Just in case you didn’t know, the book being referenced is an infamous hoax, and Levenda is widely believed to be the person who cobbled it together. Think about that for a moment. Levenda knows better than anyone in the world that one of Grant’s sources is bollocks because he himself made it up, yet he still writes a book about Grant’s teachings. Whenever I think of Levenda from now on, I’ll imagine him hunkered over on himself with his head between his knees trying to inhale his own farts.
The weirdest thing about this book was that I kinda enjoyed it. It’s been a long time since I had to power my way through a book with big sections on chakras and Kabballah. Knowing that I’d get to express the resultant frustrations on here made these parts tolerable. I’ll probably never read occult books at the rate I was getting through them three years ago, but I’m already planning on a few more in the near future.
One other thing before I go: There’s a part in this book that mentions a form of yoga that teaches men how to suck sperm back into their dicks after it has been ejaculated. It’s called Vajroli Mudra. I couldn’t find any proof that this is possible, but I truly hope it is. I want to transform my willy into a little elephant’s trunk. slurp slurp slurp
I have read a few occult pornos, the best of them by far being Inpenetrable/Spawn of the Devil. If you have read my review of that book, you might recall that I suggested that it seemed like a mildly erotic novel that had been rewritten to include ridiculously explicit scenes of perversion. Not only did the author know a bit about occultism, but the story was actually relatively entertaining without the sex. The same can not be said about the other works of occult pornography that I’ve reviewed here. The authors of Raped by the Devil and Satan was a Lesbian didn’t know a damned thing about occultism, and their books were awful. Because of these facts, I assumed that authors of occult porno who were actually interested in the occult would probably write interesting books.
One of the responses to my post on Inpenetrable informed me of existence of a series of books called “The Black Pearl: The Memoirs of Victorian Sex Magician“. Although these books were published anonymously, the internet claimed that the author was actually Gerald Suster. Suster was an occultist and a historian. He also wrote a biography of Aleister Crowley and several horror novels. I hadn’t (and still haven’t) read any of his other books, but from what I had read about Suster, it seemed to me that he, if anyone, might be capable of writing another book like Inpenetrable.
There’s four volumes to the Black Pearl. I spent a long time trying to track down all four, and I eventually ended up with 2 anthologies that feature 2 volumes each. One is a hardback without its dust jacket, and the other is a paperback with a cover that got me in trouble with my wife.
The Black Pearl: The Memoirs of a Victorian Sex-Magician, Anthology 1 (Volumes One & Two) BCA – 1997
The Black Pearl: The Continuing Memoirs of a Victorian Sex-Magician, Anthology 2 (Volumes Three & Four) NEL – 2001
I read the first volume of the series in early 2020. It was pretty tough to get through, and it took a few weeks to finish. There is a backstory at play, but it’s convoluted and dumb, and it really only serves to introduce new characters. Each chapter features Horby, the titular protagonist, meeting up with some famous Victorians and swapping dirty stories. He runs into Aleister Crowley, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Machen and a bunch more in just the first volume. They’ll meet in a café, the narrator will spend 2 paragraphs describing the food they’re eating, and then they’ll open up and recount their recent sexual escapades. The smut is very dull. There’s an occasional spanked bottom and maybe a stray finger up the arse, but it’s mostly just blow-jobs and riding. There was a little bit of rape too. I skipped most of the sex scenes after the first few chapters. I’m not saying that to make myself seem like less of a pervert. I genuinely found these bits boring. After finishing the first volume, I moved straight onto the second, but it was too much. I gave up after 7 chapters.
More than a year has passed, and I recently decided to go back and finish the series. Each of the volumes contains an introduction and a recapitulation of the preceding events. I had planned to read all of these parts in succession and then skip ahead to the 4th volume to get the full story. As I read through the summaries of the second and third volumes, I became intrigued with some of the events they were describing, so I skimmed back through these volumes to cherry-pick the juicy bits. Doing so ensured that I never got around to reading the 4th volume. The short passages I skimmed reminded me of how painful these books are to read.
The four volumes combined add up to 1344 pages. More than half of these pages are filled with descriptions of “slick cunnies” and “rampant pricks”. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a slick cunny as much as the next fellow, but there is too much of a good thing. The remainder of the books, the parts that describe the lives of fin de siècle celebrities are clearly well researched and almost interesting, but the context is too ridiculous for any insight on the lives of these people to sink in. You read a passage and start wondering if Arthur Machen was really as shy as he is being depicted, but then the narrator starts talking about being tied up and having his arse slapped. It makes it hard to concentrate. There’s a part where Sigmund Freud shows up and gives a serious speech on his theories of sexuality as he dines on chicken soup and gefilte fish. Then another character asks him, ” When are you going to put your throbbing hot cock within my warm moist cunt?”
These books were a real disappointment. They’re crap, but they weren’t cheap, and it was confusing trying to make sure I wasn’t buying the same collection twice. I’m a bit of a completist when it comes to buying series too, so I didn’t want to read the first book until I owned the second. It all seems like a waste of time effort and money now. Not only that, but it turns out I don’t really own the complete series. Suster actually published a bunch more of this kind of stuff including Unholy Passions, Wolverines, Gothic Passions and Vixens. Apparently these, and a few others, share characters and themes with The Black Pearl books. I will not being hunting any of the others down. I don’t even know if I want to read Suster’s normal fiction anymore.
If I had gotten my hands on The Black Pearl books a few years ago, I probably would have soldiered on and read through them. I can’t do that any more. I get to read for maybe half an hour a day at this point, and I don’t want to spend that time wading through boring porn.
The Devil in Love – Jacques Cazotte Heinemann – 1925 (Originally published as Le Diable Amoureux in 1772)
Jacques Cazotte was a rich French lad who may have been a psychic member of the Illuminati. (He was definitely a freemason, and it is claimed that he prophesized the coming of the French Revolution at a dinner party in 1788.) His head was cut off in 1792.
Oh, and twenty years before he died, he wrote an occult romance called Le Diable Amoureux. There have been several translations of this work into English, and while the earlier ones had a bunch of different titles, most of the versions that are currently available are published as The Devil in Love. I read the 1925 edition, a reprint of the 1793 translation. (Here is a great article that goes into more detail on the different editions of this text, and here is a pdf of the text I read.)
Don Alvaro, a stupid Spanish lad, meets a Jafar type character named Soberano who has power over demons, and Alvaro immediately wants to get in on the action. Soberano tells him that it takes years of training to control demons, but Alvaro summons Beelzebub on his first go. Beelzebub shows up in the form of a minging camel, but he turns into Biondetta, a sexy babe, when Alvaro grimaces.
The rest of the book is basically Biondetta getting Alvaro to fall in love with her. There’s a slow power transfer, and towards the end Alvaro is set to start doing her bidding rather than the other way around.
The story is very straight forward, and it felt pretty familiar to me. This is a very short work too, and the version I read is an old translation of an older book. Maybe some of the charm got lost in translation. The Devil in Love is an interesting little curiosity, but there’s not that much too it. It’s the kind of book that would make a better music video than a movie.
Anton LaVey – The Satanic Witch Feral House – 1989 (Originally published at The Compleat Witch in 1971)
I read the Satanic Bible in January 2014. I originally bought a copy to leave on my coffee table when guests were over as a joke. When I read it, I was amused by much of it but never took it too seriously.
I’ve changed quite a bit since 2014. I got married, became a father and got a real job. I suppose I’ve grown up. I don’t think of myself as a particularly good person, and I think it is everyone’s responsibility to prioritise their own well being, but I have no time for anyone who fails to see the importance of treating others with patience and kindness. I have also spent more than a sensible amount of time posting in “satanic” message groups on facebook over the last few years, and almost every Satanist I have encountered has been an utter imbecile.
The world has changed since 2014 too, almost definitely for the worst. I know that politicians have always been awful, but the political leaders and decisions of the last few years have largely been horrible. A philosophy based on greed and hedonism seems the exact opposite of what the world needs right now.
All of these factors have led me to the conclusion that The Church of Satan and its followers are a gang of dorks. Despite this, I decided to read Anton La Vey’s The Satanic Witch. This book’s cover boasts that it is designed for “women cunning and crafty enough to employ the working formulas within, which instantly surpass the entire catalogue of self help tomes and new age idiocies.” Bullshit. It’s designed for insecure losers who don’t value their individuality.
I had heard that this was embarrassing nonsense, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how stupid it truly is. The 1989 edition begins with an introduction by Zeena LaVey, the author’s daughter. Zeena claims that she became a Satanic Witch at the age of 3 and discusses how she learned that sex could be used as a tool while she was still a child. She talks about looking at her father’s porno magazines as a kid and how she got pregnant when she was 13, two years after she first read The Satanic Witch. These details are provided in attempt to depict Zeena as sexually liberated, but their real effect is to make Anton look like a seriously shitty parent. How are we supposed to take his book of advice for “women who want more control over their lives” seriously when he was such an atrociously irresponsible father? Even a shit father probably cares more about his kid than a stranger, and if LaVey couldn’t prevent his child from getting raped and impregnated at 13, how will he be able to do anything for anyone else? (I know that you shouldn’t blame a rape victim’s parents for their being attacked, but I think its different when the parent is giving their child access to pornography and books on sexual manipulation.)
I managed to get through the first few chapters of ridiculously outdated mysogonistic nonsense, but I gave up when I got to the “LaVey Personality Synthesizer”. LaVey sets out a range of people and shows which type of partner these folks will be compatible with. He writes as if he was an expert psychologist, but we all know he was just a baldy wanker.
I was going to try to paraphrase the sections of the book that I got through, but it’s too excruciating. There’s no sense to any of this utter hogswash. The only thing this pathetic pile of shit will teach anyone is what kind of women dorky little fuckboys like the author are attracted to.
Part of my reason for tryjng to read this pile of crap was that I had heard of a book called The Satanic Warlock that is essentially an updated version of this book intended for the incel crowd. I am still curious about reading this one even though I am sure it’s even worse than The Satanic Witch. Part of my motivation to review The Satanic Warlock is to write a mean spirited review that will hopefully hurt the feelings of the author and his readers, but as Anton LaVey is dead, I have no such impetus to delve any further into his work.
This is the first book of non-fiction that I have discussed this year, and it was a real stinker. If anyone has any recommendations for occult/Fortean/weird non-fiction books that don’t absolutely suck, please send them my way!
I first read Algernon Blackwood years ago. I was just starting to get into weird fiction, and I read the Penguin edition of his stories right after reading a similar volume of Arthur Machen’s best tales. I always felt like I rushed through the Blackwood book, and I’ve been meaning to give him another go for years. I recently decided to read his John Silence stories. John Silence is an occult detective predating Carnacki,Duke De Richleau and Doctor Orient. The book pictured above is the first John Silence collection. It contains 5 tales. There is a more recent collection put out by Dover with an introduction by S.T. Joshi and an additional story. This is all pretty old stuff though, and it’s all public domain, so I just downloaded an e-book for free. Here’s what I thought of the stories:
APsychical Invasion This is the worst story in the collection and a terrible introduction to the book. It’s a boring haunted house yarn. It was like a shit version of Bulwer Lytton’s The Haunted and the Haunters, itself a boring story.
Ancient Sorceries This was the only story in the collection that I had read before. I remembered that it was about cat people, but I had forgotten that these cat people worshipped the Devil. I enjoyed this one, but it isn’t really a John Silence story. Silence merely listens to the tale as it’s recounted by one of his patients. He plays no part in the events described.
The Nemesis of Fire This is another haunted house story, but it’s a lot more interesting than the other one. It involves an ancient Egyptian fire spirit. It was alright.
Secret Worship This is another story in which John Silence only plays a small role. It might also be my favourite in the collection. It’s about a man returning to the strict boarding school/ monastery where he spent his youth. The place has fallen into ill repute, and this guy has to discover why the hard way.
TheCamp of the Dog This one is pretty bad to be honest. A werewolf is on the loose in a campsite. There’s never any mystery as to what is going on and the way the characters respond to the crisis is completely unbelievable. A man sees his daughter attacked by a werewolf on an uninhabited island, hundreds of miles from civilisation. He has a gun but doesn’t shoot the werewolf dead immediately. Come on… On top of being unbelievable, this was way too long. It was a real stinker.
A Victim of Higher Space The last story, and the only one not contained in the original 1908 collection, is about a man who passes into other dimensions. It was like a horror version of Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott. It was alright.
Honestly, this collection was pretty crap. Only two of the six stories are enjoyable, and it’s not a coincidence that those two tales are the ones that aren’t really about the eponymous occult detective. John Silence is a know-it-all cunt, and I’d like to box him in the mouth.
I’d be willing to give Blackwood another chance, but not for a while.
I did not expect to be able to do this, but for the third consecutive year I am able to boast that I read and reviewed more books and wrote more posts and words than in any year previous. I spent a disgraceful amount of time reading in 2020. The pandemic kept me home for uncomfortable amounts of time, and I took to the books to stave off madness.
First off, let’s deal with the really good stuff. Some of my favourite posts of the year were on the rarest of paperback horror novels. I wrote a post detailing how I got my hands on Brenda Brown Canary’s chilling The Voice of the Clown and another on the history of Nick Blake’s infamous Chainsaw Terror. I was super excited to publish an interview with Garret Boatman, author of Stage Fright. I was even more excited when shortly after that interview’s publication Valancourt Books rereleased Stage Fright as part of their Paperbacks from Hell series. Can you imagine my elation when I got a copy of the rerelease and saw a mention of my blog in the introduction? Perhaps the most satisfying post for me to to write was my article on the sinister origins of Clive Barker’s Candyman.
Perhaps the most important book I read this year was Stephen King’s Danse Macabre. I didn’t actually enjoy it very much, but it led me to read some other great stuff. I also read a bunch by Thomas Ligotti and Clive Barker, but I didn’t group their books into single posts. I’m not finished with either of these guys yet.
I try to keep things varied, but my regular readers will have noticed a recurring antagonist in the horror novels I reviewed this year. Yes, 2020 was undoubtedly the Year of the Worm here on Nocturnal Revelries. I managed to read separate books called Worm, Wurm, Worms, The Worms, Blood Worm and a couple of books titled Slither that were both about… worms. I’m not quite done yet, but 2021 will probably see fewer posts on this niche genre.
I also got more criticism in 2020 than ever before. I’m getting more traffic than I used to, and I guess my content isn’t for everyone. I’ve signed on a few times to find abusive comments. I’m only ever amused when this happens, but I suppose I should make it clearer that the purpose of this blog is not to convince anyone to read any particular books. This site is more a book journal for me to keep notes on what I’m reading. I post it online because some people are interested. Maybe that might seem a waste of time to some, but it keeps me occupied.
It turns out that this is the 300th post on Nocturnal Revelries. I’m pretty pleased that this blog is still going at this rate after almost 6 years. I’ve read some cool books, expanded my horizons and even made a few friends along the way. I did posts like this for the past few years (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019) if you’re interested in this crap. Thanks to everyone who checks in every now and then. Remember, I try to do a new post every Sunday. You can contact me on twitter or email me. Let me know if you have any suggestions for further reading or if you want to chat about strange tomes.
Compleat Vampyre: The Vampyre Shaman, Werewolves, Witchery & the Dark Mythology of the Undead Nigel Jackson Capall Bann – 1995
A few months ago I put out a call for occult book recommendations. I haven’t been as interested in occultism for the last year, and part of me thought that this was from overdoing it over the past few years. I was kindly recommended this book by a pal of mine. It looked pretty cool, so I decided to give it a go.
It’s rather dense, and despite its subject matter, I thought it was very dry. It’s only 180 pages, but it took me a month and a half to get through it. I didn’t take notes as I read through it either, so I don’t even remember much of what the author said in the first half of the book.
This seems like a thoroughly researched book, but the writing does not seem to be very critical. Most of the book is taken up with descriptions of vampires and werewolves from folklore, but the idea that these accounts might not be real is never really discussed. I’m not saying Nigel Jackson believed every word in this book, but he doesn’t do a very good job of clarifying which parts the reader is supposed to believe and which parts are just legends.
Ultimately though, this is presented as a book on occultism rather than one on folklore. Towards the end of the book, the author does give some instructions on how to shapeshift into a werewolf, but these instructions are pretty vague, and one would have to have a detailed knowledge of occultism and ceremonial magic to be able to pull them off.
The most interesting claim in the whole book is that the mysterious large cats seen throughout the English countryside (the ones discussed at length in The Goblin Universe by Ted Holiday) are actually transformed witches and wizards.
Honestly, I couldn’t give a bollocks. I have so little to say about this that I feel bad for wasting your time. I read the whole thing, but reading it felt like trying to paint water. I’d reread the same paragraph 3 times, but I was so uninterested that nothing would stick in my head. “Vampires, shadows, liminal… bleh bleh bleh.” Whatever. I’m not really qualified to judge a book like this. Maybe it’s great if you’re interested in this stuff. I certainly amn’t. I won’t say I’ll never read another occult book, but I doubt that I’ll ever get back into reading 2 a week like I was doing a few years ago.
The Black Art – Rollo Ahmed Senate – 1994 (Originally published 1936)
In 1935, right after The Devil Rides Out was published, Dennis Wheatley’s publisher asked him to write a non fiction book about the occult. Wheatley claims he was too busy at the time (he did eventually publish one in 1971), but he recommended that his publisher get in touch with his yoga teacher, a peculiar character named Rollo Ahmed. Rollo Ahmed claimed to be an Egyptian expert on the occult, but he was actually from Guyana, and while he certainly knew a bit about the occult, much of this knowledge was probably acquired as a means to make his business seem more legitimate. Ahmed, you see, was a conman. He told stupid people he would counter black magic curses that had been put on them for money. He also told old women that spirits had instructed them to loan him a bunch of money. He was arrested and charged for doing this kind of thing on at least 3 occasions, and he served at least one month’s imprisonment with hard labour.
I bought a copy of Ahmed’s book on black magic more than 5 years ago. It cost me one Canadian cent. I started reading it at the beginning of May this year, but it was so boring that it took me 3 months to get through its 280 pages. I finished 30 other books in the same period, forcing myself to read a few pages of this trash when I was between novels. This book is the reason that this blog has seen so little non-fiction in 2020.
But did this book really suck, or have I just read too much of this kind of crap to get any enjoyment from it? Maybe it was a little bit of both.
This is supposed to be an overview of the history and practice of black magic. Ahmed did a good bit of research for this book, but he doesn’t provide any sources for most of what he is saying. This book might be of interest to individuals who are researching what people believed about black magic in the 1930s, but I wouldn’t want to rely on it as an accurate historical account.
There’s 21 chapters in here. Some are specific to time frames (pre-history, the dark ages, modernity…), some are specific to areas (India, China, Greece, Rome…), and some are specific to occult phenomena (werewolves and vampires, necromancy, alchemy…). There’s no organisational principle behind this structure, and the chapters themselves are often just lists of descriptions of practices that Ahmed either took from other texts or made up himself. I’ve come across a lot of these stories and descriptions in other books, and the stuff that was new to me wasn’t terribly interesting. Around the same time that I bought this book, I reviewed the similarly titled The Black Arts by Richard Cavendish. That book covered much of the same information that’s presented here, and Cavendish managed to cite his sources. I’m not saying that you should go out and read that one either, but it was probably better than this pile of garbage.
Similar title, cover and contents
Another obvious point of comparison here is Montague Summers’ work. Summers and Ahmed moved in the same circles, and they both were acquaintances of Dennis Wheatley and Aleister Crowley. Despite his apparent credulity, Summers’ books are the measuring stick against which all other 1930s occult histories should be compared. In the course of my research for this post, I discovered evidence that strongly suggests that Ahmed plagiarized Summers when he was writing The Black Arts.
For me, the most interesting part of this book was the chapter on the magic of Great Britain and Ireland. There is an account given of a vampire priest in Ireland that sparked my curiosity, perhaps because this is one of the only parts of the book where Ahmed cites his source. He claims that he read the story in the October 1925 edition of The Occult Review, an old occult periodical. I was intrigued by this and decided to consult the source material. It turns out that the October 1925 edition of The Occult Review contains no such story. R.S. Breene’s ‘An Irish Vampire‘ article was actually published a month later in the November edition. Big deal, anyone could make that mistake, even an expert. Well, it turns out that an expert did make that mistake. In his 1929 book, The Vampire in Europe, the Reverend Montague Summers quotes Breene’s article in full, but he mistakenly cites it as coming from the October edition of The Occult Review, 7 years before Rollo Ahmed makes the exact same mistake in his book. Coincidence? No way. It’s been a long time since I read any non-fiction by Summers, but I would be surprised if further research didn’t show more instances of Ahmed plagiarizing his work. (Here is a scan of the original story for anyone interested in the Irish priest turning into a vampire.)
Summers’ Vampire books were later retitled. I own both, but have only read the first one.
Dennis Wheatley knew both Summers and Ahmed, and there are multiple theories about characters from Wheatley’s books being based on these men. I have written several times about the Canon Copely Syle from To the Devil – A Daughter and how this character is clearly a mix of Summers and Crowley, but some people have pointed out that the evil Canon has a frightening Egyptian manservant who is probably based on Ahmed. If this is so, I reckon Wheatley understood the relative importance of both men to the annals of occult history.
“a manservant of a type that one would hardly have expected to find in an Essex village. He wore a red fez and was robed in a white burnoose. His skin was very dark, but only his thick lips suggested Negro blood; and C. B. put him down at once as an Egyptian.”– This description (presumably based on Ahmed) might seem a bit racist today, but by Wheatley’s standards it’s really not bad.
I want to include a quick note on my sources here so that I don’t seem like a hypocrite. The biographical details I’ve included are from Chris Josiffe’s articles on Rollo Ahmed in Fortean Times 316 and 317 (July and August 2014). The stuff about Ahmed’s influence on Wheatley’s characters are from this article on Wheatley’s site. All of my other sources are self evident.
I’ve been reading and reviewing books on the occult for a long time now, and my interest seems to have waned a bit recently. I believe that this is largely due to wasting my time reading so many awful piles of boring nonsense written by idiots. The Black Art wasn’t as bad as some of the shit I’ve read, but it contained little that I haven’t come across before. I ask you, my dear readers, can any of you recommend me occult/Fortean non-fiction books that are strange, interesting and preferably widely available? I’m happy to read about Black Masses and alien abductions, but I’d like a new slant on things. Maybe a Black Mass performed by aliens? Please leave a comment, tweet me or email me if you can think of anything that would fit on this site. (Remember, you can skim through my index page to see what has already been reviewed here.) Thanks!