Grimoires: A History of Magic Books – Owen Davies

grimoires owen daviesGrimoires: A History of Magic Books – Owen Davies
Oxford University Press – 2009

Normally, when I review an occult book or a book on occult books, I spend most of the review criticizing the book’s claims and/or the author. Grimoires by Owen Davies is a no bullshit history of magical books, and thankfully, I don’t have much to criticize. This book was clearly very well researched, and it never gets bogged down in speculations on the efficacy of the books its discussing. This is an academic work, but don’t let that scare you. The actual history of grimoires is almost as interesting as the ridiculous back stories that these books so often include.

I’ve read and researched a few of the books discussed in here (The Lesser Key of Solomon, The Grand Grimoire, the Abramelin text, the Faustian Grimoires, the Necronomicon, the Satanic Bible) so some of this was revision for me, but there’s also a tonne of stuff that I had never heard of. I added a few books to my to-read list while reading this.

I thought I’d have way more to say about this one, but I don’t. It’s pretty good though. I’m quite sure I’ll be referencing my copy again in the future. If you want to read a book about the history of books of magic, this is yer only man.

The Peculiar Tale of Jack Parsons

I’ve read several autobiographies, but there are very few people that I find interesting enough to want to read somebody else’s account of their life. In fact, prior to my reading for this post, the only biography I had ever read was Henry M. Pachter’s Paracelcus: Magic into Science, and I only ever read that because I had nothing else at the time. While Paracelsus played an important role in distilling science from magic, the individual that I’ve been researching recently traveled in a very different direction on the same path. Jack Parsons, a man who played a key role in putting men on the moon, was a black magician in his free time, applying the scientific method to his magical rituals.

jack parsons

I first heard of Jack Parsons in Sorcerer of the Apocalypse: An Introduction to John Whiteside Parsons in the first Apocalypse Culture book. (Incidentally, Adam Parfrey, the editor of that book and publisher of Sex and Rockets, died recently. RIP.) After that, I encountered Parson’s name in a bunch of places, notably in Disinformation’s Book of Lies and the ramblings of Robert Anton Wilson (who wrote the introduction for Sex and Rockets). In truth, I had been planning to read these two biographies for ages, but the upcoming CBS series based on Parson’s life convinced me to finish them quickly so that I can be a cool guy when it comes out.

I’ve read so many biographical accounts of Parsons recently that I don’t want to create another one. Suffice to say that he was heavily involved in/with rocket science, science fiction, Aleister Crowley, black magic, sex magic and the founder of Scientology. A crater on the dark side of the Moon is named after him, and he died in a mysterious explosion that may have been a murder, an accident, a suicide, or a demonic summoning gone wrong. Jack Parson’s was a pretty cool guy.

sex and rocketsSex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons – John Carter
2004 – Feral House

strange angel pendle parsonsStrange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons – George Pendle
2005 – Orion

I read Sex and Rockets first because it was written first. I enjoyed reading it, but it gets a bit bogged down with Thelemic mumbo-jumbo. Honestly, who cares about that rubbish? This book reads like a list of facts about Jack Parsons that were put in chronological order.  This being the second biography that I had ever read, the author’s approach seemed reasonable to me when I was reading it, but this approach makes this book less enjoyable than Strange Angel. Even though it’s mostly the same information being presented in both books, Strange Angel feels more like a novel. It begins with the climax and then goes back in time, and there’s more focus on the atmosphere and storytelling. It does not surprise me that the new TV show is based on this one. I’m glad that I read both, but I would definitely recommend Strange Angel to anyone who only has the time and/or interest to read one.

parsons black boxI wonder what’s inside!

The one notable piece of information in Sex and Rockets that’s not included in Strange Angel is the suggestion that Jack Parsons had sex with with his mother and his dog. There was a black box, covered in magical symbols, found in the apartment Jack died in. Carter notes that, “The odd box was found to contain home movies of Parsons and mother having sex, not only with each other, but also with Ruth’s “big dog.” According to reports from Pasadena police, passed down to their friend Harold Chambers, we now have circumstantial evidence that John Parsons indeed fulfilled his goal to “exteriorize [his] Oedipus complex.”
Parsons was a creep. He got off on incest (he had a long affair with his first wife’s little sister), and he seemed to like being cuckolded. Riding his ma and his dog is a bit much though. I’d have difficulty liking a person who’d do that. It’s hard to find any more evidence on this though, so I’m going to assume he didn’t.

The most important magical project of Jack’s life was the Babalon working. This involved him and L. Rob Hubbard, founder of Scientology and all-round piece of shit, going into the desert and jerking each other off with the aim of summoning the Whore of Babalon (a deliberate misspelling of Babylon) to bring about the apocalypse. After finishing the lengthy ritual in 1946, Jack believed that he and Hubbard had achieved their aim. Pendle notes that “He [Parsons] believed that Babalon, in the manner of the Immaculate Conception, was due to be born to a woman somewhere on earth in nine months time.” If Jack was right, this means that the Whore of Babalon would have been born in 1947. Think of the most powerful women in the world and then guess which one was born in 1947. That’s right, good ol’ Hillary!

Obviously, I don’t believe that Hillary Clinton is the Whore of Babylon, but it turns out that I’m not the only one to have noticed the coincidence. There’s already several loopy videos and blogposts claiming that she is the Moonchild of Jack Parsons.

Strange AngelAn Irish actor is playing Parsons too. I’ll definitely be watching.

Parsons was friends with some of the most important science fiction writers of the early 20th century, and he both inspired and was inspired by several of the characters in their works. Sci-fi is slightly outside of this blog’s jurisdiction, but I think I’ll make an exception and do a second post on Parsons about these works. Stay tuned.

H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition – John L. Steadman

h.p. lovecraft black magickal tradition - john lH.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition – John L. Steadman
Weiser – 2015

H.P. Lovecraft was a horror writer who did not believe in the supernatural. Despite his clear declarations of the contrary, some people believe that Lovecraft’s horrors were real. This book examines both the beliefs of those people and the beliefs of other occultists that have some similarities to the ideas in Lovecraft’s fiction.

Let’s start with the first group, the nutjobs that believed that Lovecraft was psychic. Both Simon and Kenneth Grant believed that Lovecraft had channeled his horrors from another dimension. I’ve talked plenty of shit about those lads before, so let’s just say that Grant was mental and full of crap, and “Simon” is a con-artist. Steadman, the author of this book, spends paragraphs defending the legitimacy of the Simon Necronomicon, but in a note at the end of the book he concedes that Simon might just be Peter Levenda. Also, Steadman, while discussing Simon’s work, refers to Michael Baigent as “a reputable scholar”. When I was reviewing Dead Names, the book in which Simon referenced Baigent, I called him out for referencing a bullshit artist. Dead Names might best be described as a work of pseudo-non-fiction though, so a reference to a bullshit artist doesn’t really make it any less enjoyable. Steadman’s book, however, is presented as an academic work. How could any person hoping to be taken seriously refer to the author of Holy Blood, Holy Grail as “a reputable scholar”? Come on.

lovecraftian occultistsThe authors of these occult texts were clearly influenced by Lovecraft. It’s a pity they’re all garbage.

There are also chapters in here on Chaos Magicians and LaVey’s Church of Satan. Like Simon and Grant, these lads deliberately brought Lovecraftian elements into their belief systems, and although I wasn’t hugely interested in the precise ways in which they did so (I’ve already read lots of the original literature being summarized here.), I can’t complain about their inclusion in this book.  This stuff on the Lovecraftian occultists was fine. The chapters on Wicca and voodoo were not.

Wicca and voodoo have nothing to do with Lovecraft, but Steadman spends chapters trying to show how these belief systems are similar to some of Lovecraft’s ideas. There is no reason to believe, nor has anyone ever suggested, that Lovecraft was responsible for the foundation of Wicca or Voodoo, and I thought that the purpose of these chapters was to show how Lovecraft’s ideas resembled parts of these foreign belief systems in an attempt to suggest that he was psychically in tune with their practitioners and/or spirits. However, in the conclusion to the book, Steadman claims, “I have shown that Lovecraft has had an indirect, though clearly definable, influence on current Vodou and Wiccan practices.” That’s not what I got out of what he has written at all. In saying that, I have to admit that I found it extremely difficult to pay attention to these boring, lame chapters.

Steadman goes into quite a lot of detail on the beliefs and practices of wiccans, voodoo practitioners, members of the Typhonian O.T.O., and Satanists. I’m so sick of reading this kind of rubbish that I found myself skimming large passages of it. I suppose it’s my fault for choosing to read another book on the occult.

lovecraft collectionsI’ve been meaning to go back over Lovecraft’s own work for a while. It has been about 10 years since I last read some of these stories. I’m going to use the Wordsworth editions next.

H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition is not a good book; it’s actually quite unpleasant to read. It’s the literary equivalent of Nickelback writing an album about a Morbid Angel song. The academic presentation combined with the author’s willful naivety is infuriating. There was a part in here where Steadman tries to make it seem that it’s common knowledge that the Knights Templar were Satanists. If he’s trying to get away with rubbish like that, who knows what other falsehoods he has slipped in here. I’d be a bit meaner, but this book is only a few years old and the author has an internet presence, so he might see this review. John L. Steadman, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry, but your book is handicapped.

 

The Spear of Destiny – Trevor Ravenscroft

spear of destiny ravenscroftThe Spear of Destiny – Trevor Ravenscroft
Weiser Books – 1997 (First published 1973)

I’m going to have to summarize this one before I comment about it.

In the late 50s, the author of this book, Trevor Ravenscroft, met a lad, Walter Johannes Stein, who had spent years researching the Holy Grail and the Spear of Destiny. Stein was going to write a book about the stuff he had learned, but he was dying, so he gave all of his information to Ravenscroft so that he could write the book instead. The Spear of Destiny, or the Spear of Longinus, is the spear that pierced Christ’s side when he was on the cross.

One morning, when he was a young man, Stein woke up and started reciting entire paragraphs of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, one of the seminal Holy Grail texts. Fascinated by his strange new ability, he decided to buy a copy of Parzival, presumably to compare with the passages he was reciting. Well, the copy he bought had some interesting notes in it. He tracked down its previous owner through his bookseller. The previous owner was Hitler. Hitler and Stein became friends (kinda). Together, they went to a museum in Austria to see a spearhead that some had claimed was from the Spear of Longinus.

When they were standing in front of the spearhead, Hitler started to glow and Stein realised that his friend was being possessed by Satan.

You see, Hitler was interested in the grail and spear because he thought they could provide him with access to the Akashic records. The Akashic records, for those of you who don’t know, are the imaginary library of memories of every human experience ever experienced by anyone. Hitler wanted access to these records for the purposes of gaining power, but he didn’t want to spend a lifetime of meditation to get there so he took a bunch of hallucinogenics in a black magic ritual to speed up the process. Unfortunately, while tripping on peyote, Hitler became possessed by the Devil. The Devil is actually one of the negative powers that came into being after some of the species that lived on the lost city of Atlantis evolved from stretchy mutants into Aryans.

Oh, and Heinrich Himmler was a zombie.

Ok, so Ravenscroft goes into a lot more detail than that, and I’ve left out all of the stuff about psychic time-travellers, but the above is a pretty fair summary of this book.

There are many, many issues that a student of history might take with Ravenscroft’s account, but there are two facts that are especially worth considering.

  1. The Hofburg Spear, the actual, physical spear that the events in book revolve around, is definitely not the Spear of Longinus.

The Hofburg Spear is of medival origin. It didn’t exist until hundreds of years after the death of Christ. This single fact obliterates nearly all of Ravenscroft’s claims.

  1. Ravenscroft never actually met Walter Johannes Stein, the supposed source for nearly all of his information.

Ravenscroft starts his book off telling his reader that Walter Johannes Stein, his good friend, deserves most of the credit for writing this book. The first chapter of this book describes, in detail, the pair’s first meeting. A few years after this book was published, Ravenscroft admitted that he never met Stein in person. He said that he had only ever been able to talk to his spirit through a medium.

When you take away the subject and the source, there’s really nothing left. It’s hard to find a footing for any meaningful criticism of this book. It’s too stupid a book to bother pointing out where it’s factually inaccurate. Ravenscroft is clearly attempting to be a part of the fantastic realism movement started by Pauwels and Bergier, but his book is one step stupider than the stuff they put out. While they encouraged speculation, Ravenscroft just tells lies. In Arktos, Joscelyn Godwin describes The Spear of Destiny as “the ultimate degradation” of the Frenchmen’s work and “blood-curdling work of historical reinvention”. A fair assessment.

Some have claimed that this book was originally meant to be a novel but that Ravenscroft’s publisher convinced him to write it as non-fiction so that it would sell more copies. I’ve no idea if that’s true or not. The book is so inflated with shockingly boring details that have little relevance to the story that it’s hard to imagine how it would have turned out as a novel. The story here is rather anti-climactic too, so I’d hope that Ravenscroft would have come up with something better for a work of fiction.

As a work of non-fiction, this is seriously one of the worst books I have ever read. I know I say that kind of thing more often than other people, but this really was a turd. The Spear of Destiny was written in an era when it was considerably more difficult for people to fact check an author’s claims, but much of the stuff that Ravenscroft tries to get away with is so clearly rubbish that I can’t imagine anyone being able to believe this shit. This book makes Holy Blood, Holy Grail seem like a serious academic study written to impeccable standards. Batshit crazy books can be entertaining, but this one wasn’t. It was tortuous.

The Spear of Destiny is a surprisingly popular book (my copy is from the 9th printing!), and you’ll find plenty of other articles online that do a better job of discussing its specific inaccuracies. I liked this one, in which the author worries about how to write about this book “in a way that was not plain sneering.” I hold myself to no such standards, so here is a picture I made of Jesus and Hitler spit-roasting Ravenscroft:

jesus hitler

Meeting the Other Crowd – Eddie Lenihan

meeting the other crowd - eddie lenihanMeeting the Other Crowd, The Fairy Stories of Hidden Ireland – Eddie Lenihan
Gill and Macmillan – 2003

I first encountered the author of this book in a Tg4 documentary about Alice Kyteler, the witch of Kilkenny. Just looking at him, you can tell that the man is a legend. There are loads of videos of him telling stories online, and you’d be better off watching them than reading this review. About 3 years ago, I was visiting Ireland and somehow ended up in the Freemason’s Hall in Dublin. I got chatting to one of the lads there about books on Irish folklore, and he recommended this. I bought it the next day.

The astute reader will have noticed a decline in the amount of non-fiction being reviewed on this blog recently. This is largely due to my developing revulsion towards occultism. I don’t know whether it’s having a kid, a job and less time or if it’s just that I’ve come to know what to expect from new-age imbeciles, but I simply don’t have the patience to wade through the sort of rubbish that I used to review. Standing in front of my bookshelf, trying to choose between an outdated book about aliens and a pamphlet about magic beans, I cast my eyes to the ground in despair. It was on its way to the ground that my line of sight crossed the copy of Meeting the Other Crowd on my bottom shelf, wedged in between books on the Holy Grail and serpent worship. Yes, this book would work. The topic is occult in every sense of the word and from what I had seen of the author, I knew it would be interesting

Fairies though. Isn’t that a bit lame?

Let’s make this very clear. The fairies of Ireland are not the pleasant, wingèd creatures, fluttering about and turning little girls into princesses that some might expect. Fairies are wrathful, violent, and manipulative entities that live in a shadow world, emerging to kidnap children and seek violent retribution for any actions they have perceived as wrongs against them. They’re not objectively bad or evil, but they are certainly the kind of things that are best avoided.

This book is a collection of stories that Eddie Lenihan collected over what seems to have been several decades. He traveled around Ireland, recording old people telling the fairy stories that they had heard throughout their lives. The tales have been transcribed fairly precisely, and they retain a flow of speech that makes it easy to imagine the voice of the teller as you’re reading their words. While all of the stories are followed with a brief commentary by Lenihan, I would have liked a little more information about the story tellers and when they were recorded.

The other issue here is the consistency of the different stories. Some of these accounts are absolutely fascinating, but some are little over a page long and present only minor variations to other stories in the collection. I suppose this was probably inevitable given the nature of the book though, and I’d prefer for these shorter stories to be included than omitted.

Unlike the authors of much of the occult material that I have reviewed on here, the tellers of these tales had, as far as I can tell, an honest conviction in the stories they were telling. These people weren’t out to proselytize or to make a buck. They were telling stories that they had been asked to tell. That in itself makes it much easier to both enjoy the stories as stories and to consider them as something more than imaginary.

A skeptic might claim that these accounts are the attempts of uneducated, rural people to rationalize the traumatic events in their lives (infant deaths, thefts, abductions) but that interpretation doesn’t do these stories justice. Whether or not the events in these tales occurred precisely as they are described has no bearing on their beauty and cultural worth. While I’m not entirely convinced about the objective existence of fairies, I don’t think I’d ever enter a Fairy Fort, just to be safe.

I’d recommend this book for anyone with an interest in folklore and/or malevolent shadow people. I’m looking forward to reading more of Lenihan’s books in the future.

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.

Doctor Orient

baron orgazIn March 2016, I was working just around the corner from my house. I came home at lunch one day, and as I was sitting down, waiting for the coffee to brew, I checked facebook. Will Errickson had posted a photo of a book featuring the above image on its cover. Let’s just take stock of the elements in that picture: a skull, some ritual candles, a semi-naked woman and a swastika. Needless to say, I had ordered a copy of the book, the intriguingly titled Baron Orgaz, before I had poured my coffee.

It was only after ordering that I realised that this book was part of a series. Now, as my readers well know, I don’t like starting halfway through, so I spent a few weeks tracking down copies of the preceding books in the series. By the time I had got through the first novels and was finishing Baron Orgaz, I had ordered the rest of the collection.

doctor orient books

I’ve hemmed and hawed about publishing this post for a few months. I was considering finishing the entire series before posting, but I have a lot on my hands at the moment, and it’s going to take me quite a while to get through the remaining four novels. Here, then, are my thoughts and feelings on the first half of the Doctor Owen Orient series.

doctor orient frank lauriaDoctor Orient – Frank Lauria
Bantam Press – 1974 (Originally published 1970)

The first Doctor Orient novel seems to be a little harder to come by than some of the later entries in the series. While quite entertaining, it isn’t, in my opinion, quite as good as the books that follow it. Then again, if you were to imagine the series as one extremely long novel, this would serve as good introduction. You get to meet several of the characters who are going to pop up in later installments.

The most obvious point of comparison here would be the Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley. Both books are about crime fighting occult experts doing battle with a black magician. The Duke De Richleau and Doctor Orient are both aided on their adventures by a motley crew of accomplices, one member of each group being temporarily led down the left hand path. The biggest difference here is that Doctor Orient is far less hesitant to use his own psychic powers than De Richleau.

The antagonist in this novel is a dodgy lad called Sesuj. He tries to use pop music as a form of mind control to bring young people over to Satan. Pretty cool stuff.

raga six frank lauriaRaga Six – Frank Lauria
Bantam Press – 1972

Raga Six impressed me. It kicks off with a pair of weirdoes who seem to be going for fairly similar approach to Susej from the first novel, but this turns out to be a false start. The real adventure kicks off when Doctor Orient starts working for a drug peddler named Cowboy and ends up in exile after a particularly sketchy transaction. He meets a really dodgy lad on a boat to Tangier and has a threesome with this chap’s wife and a model. People start dropping off, and you get the idea that there’s at least one vampire involved.

Given that this is a book filled with sex and the undead, the writing is surprisingly good. The Doctor is a sensitive man at the best of times, and I enjoyed the existential crises that he goes through in this book. I was kept guessing right until the end of the novel too. It took me 5 months to start on Raga Six after finishing the first novel in the series, but it only took me 6 days to move onto Lady Sativa after finishing it. Raga Six might be the best known entry in the series.

lady sativa frank lauriaLady Sativa – Frank Lauria
Ballantine Books – 1979 (Originally published in 1973)

This one is about werewolves. It had all the sex, seances and outdated slang that I’d come to expect from a Doctor Orient novel. It contains one scene in which an irritable Doctor Orient unwittingly invites himself to a threesome. Once he finds out that another male is going to be involved, he violently assaults said male and calls him a “Gaylord”. LOL. I was expecting this one to go in a similar direction to Raga Six, but it doesn’t really. A solid entry.

baron orgaz frank lauriaBaron Orgaz – Frank Lauria
Bantam Press – 1974

Nazis, extreme sadomasochism, black magic and tennis… Really, need I say more?

Well, the only other thing that might be worth mentioning is that this very much is the fourth book in a series. While a person might well be able to enjoy the work entirely on its aforementioned merits, most of the main characters have previously appeared and played important roles in the series, so I would strongly recommend reading the first 3 books before this one.

doctor orient later books
I have these ones too, but I haven’t got around to reading them yet. Not pictured is Demon Pope, the last book in the series.

Overall, the Doctor Orient series is awesome. There are loads of cool little references to actual grimoires and conspiracies scattered throughout these books. The author, Frank Lauria, knew William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, he sings in a rock band, and he’s not a fan of Donald Trump. Also, his books are filled with sex, drugs, rock’n’roll and devil worship. Deadly. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this series.