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.

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.

The Peculiar Legends of the Red Book of Appin

A few weeks ago, I wrote a review in which I claimed that all of the grimoires that I have thus read have been a little disappointing. The book in question, Liber Falxifer, had a good atmosphere to it, but while the ritual procedures were generally spooky enough, the end goals of the rituals themselves were just a little too similar to what I’ve seen before. In response to this complaint, V.K. Jehannum, infamous demonolater and black magician, kindly suggested that I check out a mysterious little book called The Red Book of Appin.

This “book” is, as far as I know, exclusively available in pdf form. I did a bit of research on it before reading, and the earliest mention I found of this specific text comes from 2003. However, a mysterious book titled ‘The Red Book of Appin‘ has been referenced in many works over the last 150+ years.

I decided to do a little research.

popular tales west highlands J.FPopular Tales of the West Highlands Volume II [1860] by J. F. Campbell
The first written mention of the Red Book of Appin can be found in what is basically a footnote to a story in J.F. Campell’s collection of Scottish folktales. The stories in this book were orally collected from Scottish peasants and the likes by the author and his accomplices during the mid-nineteenth century. Part XXX, The Two Shepherds, is the story of a lad getting assaulted by a very suspicious individual when making his way home one night. It is followed by another, very similar story, and it is in this tale, as told by “an old carter named John in Ardkinglas to Hector Urquhart, a friend of Campbell’s, in 1860, that the Red Book of Appin is first mentioned. The story goes a little something like this:

A man in Appin, a village in Scotland, adopted an orphan boy, and when this kid was old enough, he became a shepherd. One day, when he was out herding sheep, a mysterious stranger approached the boy and offered him a better job. The stranger told the kid that he’d make lots of money in his service; all he had to do was sign his name in the stranger’s little red book. The kid was interested, but he said that he’d have to talk it over with his adoptive father first. The stranger didn’t like this idea and tried to convince him to agree there and then. The kid was having none of it, so they arranged to meet up the next day after he had talked things through at home.

That night, the kid tells his dad what had happened, and this dad congratulates him for acting sensibly. He tells the kid to meet up with the stranger on the following evening, and he gives him instructions on how to make a protective circle around himself with the point of a sword so the stranger can’t touch him. (Note that this guy already seems to have some knowledge of folk magic.) He instructs the kid to accept and steal the book from the stranger only when he’s safely within the circle and to avoid signing it at all costs.

The kid manages to pull it off, much to the dismay of the stranger, who, at this stage, by transforming himself into many likenesses and blowing fire and brimstone, has cast off any doubts over his true identity. The kid waits till morning when the Devil disappears and then takes the book home to his dad.

(I’m by no means an expert on Gaelic mythology, but I have encountered similar stories of Scottish and Irish folk tricking the Devil (Divil). He seems to be a bit of an idiot when he’s in those parts.)

Urquhart notes that he had heard many tales of the Book of Appin from old people but that this particular story was the best. I’m sure that he chose the word “best” to suggest that this story was the most entertaining rather than the most accurate.

Apparently, Campell provided other origin tales for the Red Book of Appin (and other red books), but I haven’t been able to find their sources online. There’s an article by Hugh Cheape that gives these different stories and other information on the book. From both the quantity of accounts and their banality, it seems quite likely that there was an actual man in Appin who had a red book. Most of the stories are about villagers asking this man for advice when their cattle were sick. The actual Red Book was almost definitely just a collection of folk medicine recipes. These stories are too boring to presume that somebody made them up.

Ok, there you have it. The actual Red Book of Appin was a book of cow medicine.

red book of appin - ethan allen hitchcock

What’s this then? It looks fancy. This, my friends, is an 1863 book called The Red book of Appin : a story of the Middle Ages, with Other Hermetic Stories and Allegorical Tales by Ethan Allen Hitchcock. It’s a book in which the author takes folk tales and completely over-analyzes them.

It gives the account from Campell’s book, word for word, and then it goes into a bizarre analysis in which the author compares elements of the story with elements of the Bible. I gave up reading it after he says that the orphan in the story represents Melchisideck. Nothing of note here other than the fact that by 1863, the legend of the Red Book of Appin was already attracting lunatics.

Ok, so we have a quaint Scottish folktale and some historical traces of a curious little book about healing cows. Didn’t I start this post off discussing ultra-violent black magic?

Enter Montague Summers.

montague summers history witchcraft.jpg

Montague Summers, a man infamous for his anachronistic fear of black magic, includes the exact same paragraph on the book of Appin in both his History of Witchcraft and Demonology, 1926 (Chapter 3, p.86) and his Popular History of Witchcraft, 1937 (Chapter 2, p.76). It reads:

Such a volume was the Red Book of Appin known to have actually been in existence a hundred years ago. Tradition said it was stolen from the Devil by a trick. It was in manuscript, and contained a large number of magic runes and incantations for the cure of cattle diseases, the increase of flocks, the fertility of fields. This document, which must be of immense importance and interest, when last heard of was (I believe) in the possession of the now-extinct Stewarts of Invernahyle. This strange volume, so the story ran, conferred dark powers on the owner, who knew what inquiry would be made ere the question was poised ; and the tome was so confected with occult arts that he who read it must wear a circlet of iron around his brow as he turned those mystic pages.

The only part of what Monty wrote that didn’t come directly from the account in Campbell’s book is the line about the iron circlet, but the chapter in Campbell’s book that mentions the Red Book does specifically discuss the notion that “supernatural beings cannot withstand the power of iron”. I think it safe to assume that Campbell was Summers’ direct source for this paragraph.

Ok, so Summer’s paragraph doesn’t really add anything to what we already knew. However, I have little doubt that it was its mention in the works of Montague Summers that brought The Red Book of Appin to the attention of modern occultists.

Somewhere along the way, around 2003 it seems, somebody decided to write (or maybe just translate) a grimoire, but they knew that nobody would pay attention to it unless it had a cool name. On reading about the long-lost, mysterious Red Book of Appin in the works of Summers (or maybe one of Summers’ fans), the author/translator realized that his work would be a whole lot more mysterious (and hence popular with occultists) if it purported to be a resurfacing of that long lost work.

red book of appin scarabaeusThe Red Book of Appin – Translated by Scarabaeus
Year of composition and publication unknown

So here we go, the dodgiest book of black magic available for free download.

This grimoire supposedly contains the teachings of Vlad Tepes. That’s right; Vlad the Impaler is supposed to have dictated this malarky to a monk named Kirill. The text claims that “the devil-worshipping of the great romanian general is an unquestionable fact, which no serious black adept can deny.” This is a bit odd considering that we’re speaking of a (V)lad who once attacked the Ottoman Empire “for the preservation of Christianity and the strengthening of the Catholic faith”.

Authorship aside, what the Hell does a grimoire supposedly written by Count Dracula have to do with the Scottish Red Book of Appin that we’ve been talking about? Well, as it turns out, nothing at all; this grimoire is named after “Joseph Appin”, the English merchant who supposedly once owned the manuscript. The fact that the book was red is just another coincidence. Indeed, the only part of the pdf that’s actually red is the Times New Roman heading on the first page.

ritual red book appin scarabaeusOne of the book’s high quality illustrations.

This is definitely not the actual Red Book of Appin, but I suppose it could be a translation of a genuine grimoire to which the translator attached a name for which he knew there would be a market. Indeed there are signs that this is a translation. It reads a lot like the homework of a foreign student who has used Google Translate to change their writing into English. The grammar, spelling and punctuation are all absolutely horrible. I’ll be honest here, even if this is a translation, it’s a translation of absolute garbage. I find it very fitting that translator’s pseudonym literally means dung beetle.

There’s two main sections to the text. The first is a fairly standard list of demons, the same kind of thing that you find in the Goetia and the Grand Grimoire. The next section is on different rituals. These are absurd. The most entertaining was the one in which the wizard constructs a bell with a human corpse as the dingy bit in the middle. I can’t remember what this was supposed to achieve, but it was pretty funny. Most, if not all, of these rituals involve murderous sacrifices, including the killing of babies. I know that I complained that other grimoires weren’t nasty enough, but I found this pretty tasteless. There’s no atmosphere or cleverness here; it’s the kind of thing a teenage death metal fan would write. A load of shit.

sigil red book appinDoodles from a boring math class or the demonic seals of “Superior Creatures”?

There is another book, The True Red Book of Appin, written by Tarl Warwick, but this is an admitted fiction. This lad noticed the hullaballoo that this text was causing online and decided that he could write a much better version. Fair play to him. I haven’t read his book, but I am quite sure it’s more entertaining than the heap of trash by Scarabaeus.

So there you go, the legends of the Red Book of Appin. I somehow doubt that the original text, if it were ever to be found, would be as entertaining as the tales that have told about it.

 

Wicca vs. Trump and Voodoo vs. Hitler

I don’t normally write about politics, but here we go. There has been a bunch of recent articles (BBC, FoxNews, DailyMail…) about groups of witches casting spells to get rid of Donald Trump. Personally, I think that Trump is a piece of shit and that his administration is a pack of horrible cunts, but I don’t have a very high opinion of  unkempt, dreadlocked wiccans either.  And imagine the chaos that would ensue if their spell actually worked. Congress would round up every goth with a triangle tattoo and burn them at the stake. I think that American witches would do well to draw as little attention to themselves as possible for the next four years.

Anyways, putting hexes on fascist dictators is really nothing new. In 1941, Willie Seabrook and friends attempted to kill Adolf Hitler with voodoo. I found the full Life Magazine article about the ritual online, and I’ve uploaded it here for you.

hitler-voodoo-1

hitler-voodoo-2

hitler-voodoo-3

hitler-voodoo-4

hitler-voodoo-5

hitler-voodoo-6Pretty cool, huh?

Satan’s Disciples – Robert Goldston

satans disciples goldston.jpg
Ballantine Books – 1962
I added this book to my to-buy list immediately after stumbling across a picture of the cover somewhere online. I was worried that the book itself might not live up to the cover image, but it delivered.

This is a trashy and rather sensational history of satanism and witchcraft. Robert Goldston skips the boring parts (numerology, kaballah, astrology, palmistry…) and goes straight for the sadistic orgies, blood sacrifices, and hag torture. Needless to say, I enjoyed every page.

The introductory chapter to this magnificent work claims that “It can be safely asserted that from the year 1200 until the middle of the seventeenth century, the overwhelming majority of the people in Europe worshipped Satan and regularly attended his festivals.” While I have come to expect this kind of exaggeration from Christian writers writing about Satanism, nearly all of Goldston’s condemnations are actually directed at the church. He doesn’t quite espouse Satanism, but the book, as a whole, almost seems like an attempt to justify it.

While claiming to be a “a full account of witchcraft for modern readers”, this is really more a mish-mash of descriptions of some of the grislier characters, legends and phenomena from the history of witchcraft, each description doing its utmost to err on the side of ridiculous. Included are tales of the ‘blood cows’ of Elizabeth Bathory, how Oliver Cromwell sold his soul to the devil (I believe it, the cunt!), a woman who gives birth to a pair of goblins and feeds them to her dog, and Doctor Fian, a Scottish wizard who specialized in pube magic. There’s a wonderful account of a priest who stupidly banished a demon to a toilet and thus ended up with a burnt, shit-besplattered arsehole, and there’s the heartwarming tale of the Chatelaine De Beauvoir, a lady that I can’t find mention of anywhere else who managed to convince a troop of young men to be her sex slaves. She divided these men into different groups of animals (some were dogs, some were birds) and had them do her perverted bidding. When a police officer inquired how she maintained control over these fine fellows, he was told that she did so by feeding them her shit. What a cool lady! There’s also plenty of other stories about rape, incest and cannibalism. This book definitely doesn’t shy away from the nasty stuff. There’s one particularly brutal account of a young nun who is accused of witchcraft and jailed. Confined to her cell, she is routinely raped by her three guards. At first this treatment leads her to attempt suicide, but she later grows to like it and eventually ends up spending the non-getting-raped parts of her days worshipping Satan.

Towards the end of the book, Goldston temporarily abandons his objective of chronicling the history of witchcraft and devotes a single chapter to the actual practice of Black Magic. Chapter 11, Spells, Curse and Demons, is basically a grimoire in and of itself. It includes useful spells to cure gout, guard against vicious animals, summon Satan, get rid of a headache and kill your enemy. Crucial stuff.

In ways, this book was quite similar to Peter Robson’s The Devil’s Own, but while equally as trashy, this one contains a bibliography and actually makes frequent reference to real historical texts. I wasn’t surprised to see William Seabrook’s book on witchcraft in its bibliography either. All three of these books have a delightful bullshit/reality ratio, and if you have enjoyed one of them, you will definitely like the others. I would really love to know if anyone has recommendations for similar books.

 

Year in Review: 2016

2016 is very nearly over, and although it was a tremendously shit year in a lot of ways, it was a pretty good year for this blog. Not only did the site’s traffic increase to 4 times what it was in 2015, I also believe that my content has improved in quality. For much of the first year of the blog, I was reviewing books that I had read a long time ago. At this stage, I’m reviewing books right after reading them, and the more I read on these topics, the more links I have been able to draw. Not every post on here is groundbreaking, but there have been a few this year that I am quite proud of. Here’s my top-10 list for 2016:

bulwer-green-skull


10. The Haunters and the Haunted

A look at the different versions of Bulwer Lytton’s classic ghost story. This post features Colin Wilson getting pwned.

2016-05-19 22.01.48

9. The Books of Whitley Strieber
(Communion, Transformation)
I want to bully this guy so much.

witchcraft


8. Seabrook’s Witchcraft

Willie Seabrook: explorer, sceptic, sorceror and sex-pervert. My hero.

buk


7. Matthew Hopkins’ Discovery of Witches

The coolest physical book in my collection

dictionaries-of-witchcraft-and-demonology

6. Dictionary of Demonology/Dictionary of Witchcraft
The biggest disappointment of 2016

20160325_000821

5. The Fiery Angel
A curious, Russian occult novel that turned out to be based on a true story.

20160803_210212


4. Black Magic Grimoires
An in-depth look at some of the most infamous works of black magic.

demoniality-liseux-version

3. Ludovico Maria Sinistrari (Part 1, Part 2)
A weird Friar who believed in randy fairies and gander-neck appendages that grew from between the legs of horny women.

frontispiece

2. Varney the Vampire
You won’t find many reviews of this book that are as thorough as this one.

bookwith angel

and finally… 1. Michelle Remembers
My post of the year without doubt. An on-site investigation into the diabolic, incestuous rape fantasies of a masochistic idiot and sex fiend.

I want to stress that this is a list of the best posts from this blog in 2016. (It most certainly does not reflect the 10 best books that I read in 2016!) I hope that Nocturnal Revelries has been insightful and entertaining to the people who have found themselves reading through it over the last year. I have really enjoyed reading and writing for this blog, and I intend to keep the content coming during 2017. That being said, my wife and I are expecting our first baby in March, and I imagine that she’s going to leave me with significantly less time to spend reading.

Thanks for all of the support. Read books, drink tea, skip mass and have a good new year!

(Oh, and just in case you didn’t know, I have facebook, twitter and tumblr pages set up so that you can keep track of what’s happening on the blog even if you don’t have a wordpress account.)

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.