The Black Art: Rollo Ahmed’s Plagiarism of Montague Summers


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.

rollo-ahmedMr. Ahmed

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.

blackartsSimilar 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.)

montague-summers-vampire-booksSummers’ 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.

to the devil - a daughter“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!

Daughters of the Devil – Charles LeFebure

daughters of the devil lefebure.jpgDaughters of the Devil – Charles LeFebure
1971 – Ace Books

The blurb on the back of this book describes its contents as “true stories of unparalleled sadistic erotica”. The front cover claims that it contains “Chilling accounts of fourteen women who used their terrifying powers of Darkness and Evil to inflict Pain for Pleasure!” It’s called Daughters of the Devil, for Christ’s sake. Can you imagine my delight when I found a copy of it for 5 dollars?

I mean, realistically, the book was shit, and I had known exactly what to expect. A few years ago, I read a book called The Devil’s Own by Peter Robson, and I had the feeling that this would be very similar. I just checked my copy of that book, and unsurprisingly, it was put out by the same publisher, Ace Books. After rereading my review of that book, I’m surprised at how similar it is to Daughters of the Devil. Charles LeFebure wrote two other books for Ace, Blood Cults and Witness to Witchcraft, and I reckon it’s safe to assume they’re the same kind of crap.

The chilling accounts in here are very sensational, and rarely convincing. Some of them are about real people, but I can’t find any evidence for the others. (This was my same complaint when I read The Devil’s Own.) When I googled some of the names in here, the only result I found was somebody else who had read this book complaining about the same lack of evidence.

I’m going to briefly describe each of the accounts in here in case anyone is interested.

  1. A girl gets involved in a Satanic cult. They have orgies and sacrifice a fetus during a black mass. This account references Crowley, H.T.F. Rhodes and the Abbé Guiborg’s Black Mass. It wasn’t believable, but it was a pretty good start to the book.
  2. Carletta Pantucci and her Daughters of Isis were a weird cult of lesbians that bred babies that they intended to raise as virgin cultists. They told the future by bloodletting women’s groins.
  3. There was a weird convent where nuns were crucified and whipped by a perverted priest and made to watch him fuck their Mother Superior. This was all done in the name of Christ.
  4. Caroline Langley, a one time friend of Aleister Crowley, commits acts of black magic, sometimes to kill people. I can find no evidence of Crowley ever knowing a Caroline Langley.
  5. A six month old curséd baby poisons a boy with witchcraft and the boy’s hand is amputated.
  6. Obango, the “Ga witch” from Ghana, bled ate and killed victims, 15 of whom were related to her. Ga witches have sex with animals.
  7. Annie Palmer, the rich voodoo priestess decapitated some of her slaves and raped others with snakes. (This one has some basis in fact.)
  8. Gdoma, an ugly Asian witch, coerces young people into sexing each-other up. LeFebure claims she’s very evil, but she doesn’t sound that bad really.
  9. Some Mexican woman ran a sex school for children in her house. She killed two abusive husbands.
  10. Caterina Sforza, a real Renaissance woman, is here described as ,’the most wicked woman of all time’.
  11. A Chinese child sex-slave grows up to start her own brothel in which random johns are taken to the secret rooms downstairs and tortured to death. The events in this story allow for no possible way that anyone could ever discover what had happened – there could be no evidence – but somehow the author is able to tell the tale. The lady died without any trial or case against her. It’s a cool story even if it’s completely fabricated.
  12. I got a bit into this one before I realised that I had actually heard it, or at least a version of it, before. It’s the story of Edward Arthur Wilson, the mysterious Brother XII, and his Madame Zee. Plenty of the details listed here are entirely false, but Lefebure’s fabrications don’t actually make the story any more interesting than it really is. I have another book on Brother XII that I have been meaning to read for a long time. I’ll definitely come back to Lefebure’s account when I get around to that one.
  13. Charlotte Gilbert leads a cult that worships cats and ritually sacrifices dogs because they are cat’s natural enemies. Her cult is a breakaway of the Glastonbury Essenes, a real order that supposedly worships aliens.
  14. The last account is of Catherine Deshayes (La Voisin), the abortionist and satanist involved in the Affair of the Poisons. This is the sensational account you’d expect.

 

Most of these stories contain little truth, and none of them are erotic. There is a fair bit of sadism though. This book is made up of descriptions of horrible women that probably never existed. The titles of this author’s other books sound very good, but they’re surely of the same quality. I’ll buy them if I ever see them for very cheap, but I wouldn’t be bothered hunting them down.

The Black Books of Elverum

the black books of elverum.jpgThe Black Books of Elverum – Mary Rustad
Galde Press – 1999

In the 1970s, Mary Rustad, a lady in Norway, was looking through the farmhouse that she had recently moved into. This house had belonged to her family for centuries, and it was filled with old junk. She found two curious books in a box in the attic. When she opened them, she realised that they were books of magic spells, compiled or collected by her ancestors. The books supposedly date from the late 1700s/early 1800s, and research proved that several of Mary’s ancestors had been involved in a witchcraft trial in the 1600s. It seems as though witchcraft ran in her family. These books were the real deal, forgotten grimoires of black magic. The Black Books of Elverum is a translation of these two handwritten grimoires.

lucifer elverum.jpgThis cool picture of Lucifer is included, but I don’t think it’s from the actual grimoires.

The spells in here seem pretty silly. Some are appeals to Jesus, others are appeals to demons, but some are just recipes or instructions that don’t have any spiritual element. (The ones on how to abort a fetus basically just tell the woman to drink a bunch of poison.) These books offer insight into the fears, customs and beliefs of Norwegian farmers, and I reckon they’re of more interest to historians than they are to occultists. Who needs a spell to make themselves horny in an age when viagra and internet porn are so readily available?

spell to make yourself horny.jpg(Just in case your wifi is down)

Some of the spells in here are very specific. There are two to be used against a thief who leaves his turd behind him after he has carried out a burglary. This is really convenient when you want to send the Devil out after the miscreant who shit on your carpet and nicked your telly.

There’s instructions on how to find witches in here. The curious are to go to a church on certain nights during the year and to wait near the church bells. Witches are apparently quite fond of gnawing church bells with their teeth, and will take any opportunity to do so. I had never heard of this before, but when I looked it up, I found a book that claims that this odd belief was also held in parts of Sweden. Witches were supposed to bite off bits of church bells to use in their potions. Jesus, I hope they had a good dentist.

This was a pretty cool book. It’s presented well, and the material is very interesting. It contains scans of original texts, and there’s an appendix recounting the 1625 court case against Ingeborg Økset, Rustad’s ancestor. The whole thing is pretty short too, so it doesn’t take long to get through. If you’re interested in Norwegian folk magic, you should definitely read this book.

Magica Sexualis – Emile Laurent and Paul Nagour

magica sexualis.jpg
Magica Sexualis: Mystic Love Books of Black Arts and Secret Sciences
Emile Laurent and Paul Nagour
Falstaff Press – 1934

This is a rather curious book. A limited number of copies were printed privately in 1934, and one of these found its way onto the internet. I read it because I haven’t done any occult books in a while, and people seem to be more interested in the sexy ones.

Magica Sexualis is basically a compendium of information on the role of sex in different forms of occultism. The information within is fairly interesting, but it doesn’t seem to support any particular thesis. Each chapter deals with a different type of occultism and the corresponding role of sex. I don’t really want to go through each chapter, as quite a few were very boring (particulary the ones towards the end). The rest of this review is just some of the notes I took while reading through this strange book.

  1. The authors claim that the medieval witch-craze was caused by poor people turning to Satan because they found Catholicism too hard. Although the authors believe in witches, they concede that their night ride to the Sabbat was drug induced, not real.
  2. There’s a cool section on incubi and succubi. It’s mostly made up of  anecdotes from the classic witch-texts, and much discussion is given to Sinistrari’s question about whether incubi use their own demon sperm or the sperm collected from men they rode as succubi.
  3. In their description of the Black Mass, the authors describe how Satan would knead the dough of his unholy Eucharist on the buttocks of a recently deflowered virgin. That’s a pretty cool detail I can’t recall seeing elsewhere. There’s several accounts of Black Masses in here, including a lengthy quotation from the infamous scene in  Huysman’s Là Bas.secret rites of black mass 
  4. There was a lad called Gaufridi who supposedly used to breath on people to make them love him. Before he was executed for his evil deeds, he claimed that he had used his power on his accuser’s mother and that his accuser might be his daughter. Haha, owned. Apparently his accuser lived the rest of her life being teased, “continually hearing the taunts of the people and heavy breathing and snoring wherever they went.”.  This case actually set the precedent for the sentencing of Urbain Grandier during the Loudun Possessions 20 years later.
  5. This book contains the following description of an interesting West African ass-dance:black buttocks
  6. There’s a big section on Catholic views on the sinfulness of sex that was pretty interesting. Quoting Krafft-Ebing, the authors blame religion for creating perversions, not preventing them. This section also gives details about the Scopts, a sect of Russian mentallers who liked to cut off their own dicks. “In the first period of their existence, the operation consisted of the removal of the testes by glowing hot irons; this mutilation was called the baptism by fire.” These lads would also mutilate a young virgin every Easter; “Her breasts were removed and then the participants in the ceremony awesomely consumed a portion of the holy breasts. The virginal victim was then placed upon the altar; the frenetic believers danced and sang about her until they were aroused to the highest pitch of sexual madness when they gave way to their cruel and bestial desires upon one another.”
    Fucking Hell.
  7. Saint Veronica Juliani had sex with a lamb.witches ritual goat
  8. Sunamitism is the notion that young flesh and sweat makes you young again. This comes from Abishag of Shunem, the child who had to sleep with the Biblical King David to maintain his vitality. King David was a paedo. Sunamitism is supposedly why teachers generally live longer than other people.
  9. The chapter on the sex practices within certain religons is mostly boring, but it claims that Baal Peor was “the God Penis” and the male priests of Baal were teenage gay prostidudes who also pimped wuff-wuff dogs.

There’s also chapters on gross love potions, cures for magical impotency, werewolves, vampires, and Freudian dream interpretation. Like I said, there’s not much focus or cohesion here at all. It’s not an absolutely horrible book to read, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone for any reason.

 

Gilles De Rais, the Perverted Son

trial of gilles de rais george batailleThe Trial of Gilles De Rais – George Bataille
Amok Books – 1991 (Originally published 1965)

Gilles de Rais is the kind of person that makes the belief in Heaven and Hell extremely appealing. There is no satisfaction to be derived from the fact that he was executed for his crimes. Those crimes were so hideous that their perpetrator deserves an eternity of agonizing torment – a quick execution is no payback for the brutal torture, rape and murder of countless children.

Gilles was an extremely powerful and ludicrously wealthy nobleman in 15th century France. For roughly 10 years, the Baron De Rais had his servants abduct poor children to satiate his hideous desires. He would slowly torture and murder them, usually stabbing them in the neck, sometimes severing their heads completely. As they perished, he would sit on their stomachs, peer into their dying faces and laugh. These victims would be raped at various stages during this process. After decapitating them, the Baron would kiss the children’s severed heads.

Oh, and while these horrendous acts were doubtlessly the result of de Rais’ depraved sexual impulses, he performed them in the name of the Devil. He employed several black magicians to help him communicate with demons. These sorcerers took De Rais for a fool. They would attempt to raise demons in front of him and after a while of nothing happening, they’d send him out of the room and lock the door. Then they’d start screaming in terror, and when Gilles would come back they’d tell him that the Devil told them to ask for some more money. Gilles would grant this request immediately. At other times, they would ask the Baron to provide them with the limbs and organs of dead children. These same sickos would also be present when Gilles was torturing kids. It seems that they were part of an abhorrently disgusting necro-paedophile ring. These scum were worst of the worst.

Gilles De Rais was eventually brought to trial for kidnapping a priest, and when the authorities started investigating the Baron, they heard the terrible rumours that had spread about him.

During a relatively painless trial (no torture on record), Gilles de Rais confessed his guilt and repented. He was excommunicated, but he was soon thereafter re-communicated by the Catholic Church because he had willingly confessed. The Church took the allegations of kidnapping a priest and being an alchemist more seriously than the rape and murder of countless children. Gilles was executed quickly, and the locals in his area were given a 3 day holiday to grieve for their master.

I don’t know guys. This is remarkably unsatisfying. I wanted to read about this lad dying slowly in unspeakable agony. His crimes are so gruesome that my initial response (and the response of many others) was to assume that the charges against him were false – they’re just a bit too extreme to imagine them really happening. That being said, the best evidence that is available to us, the court documents of his trial, provide a very cohesive and damning account.

It is these documents that make up most of the text of George Bataille’s The Trial of Gilles De Rais.

This is a very repetitive book. The first section is comprised of Bataille’s philosophical ramblings on the case. The second part is a very, very detailed timeline of Gilles De Rais’ life, much of which was already covered in the previous section. The last section is made up of the court documents of the trial. There is very little information in these documents that has not been discussed previously in the book. Also, court documents are fairly repetitive by their nature, so this book ends up delivering the same story about 5 times. I do appreciate the comprehensive nature of this book, but I think it would have been more effective to put the timeline first and Bataille’s thoughts after it.

The content of this book makes its repetitive nature remarkably depressing. You get to read about poor parents searching for their murdered children over and over again. This is fucking harrowing stuff. Bataille was a bit of a weirdo though, and I guess this was intentional. I read his Story of the Eye years ago, but I remember very little of it.

I’ve already mentioned that some people think that Gilles De Rais was the innocent victim of a conspiracy. He was a wealthy politician with plenty of enemies, and it is likely that many other people would profit from his downfall. My old friend Aleister Crowley was one of the individuals to proclaim the innocence of the Baron de Rais.

In an infamous lecture that was never delivered, Crowley argues that it was very likely that De Rais was framed. He argues that the claims against de Rais are too ridiculous to be taken seriously – they sound too similar to rumours spread to villainise the Jews throughout history. Crowley seems to have read a very different account of the trial of De Rais to the one presented in Bataille’s book though. Aleister claims that De Rais only confessed to his crimes when tortured, but the court documents presented by Bataille show that De Rais actually managed to avoid being tortured by confessing. Also, while the number of victims in Bataille’s text ranged from 35-140, Crowley gives the number of victims as 800 on the authority of Montague Summers. Summers, as we all know, was either very gullible individual or just prone to sensational exaggerations, and Crowley, an acquaintance of Summers, had to have known this. The swarmy, sarcastic and provocative tone that Crowley uses throughout the lecture make it seem all the less convincing.

I’ve encoutered De Rais a couple of times in fiction. The protagonist in Huysman’s Là-bas spends his time researching the evil Baron, and Gilles himself comes back from the dead to appear in Philip José Farmer’s Image of the Beast. And Ough! – he’s obviously a heavy metal hero too. I have a tshirt with a picture of him on it. I don’t wear it to work.

gilles de rais macabre shirt.jpgIt’s for this rather silly but historically detailed song.

I’d like to believe that De Rais was innocent, but the testimonies collected in Bataille’s book are very cohesive. It would be far more comfortable to believe that Gilles De Rais died an innocent man than to accept the horrendous deaths his victims suffered at his hands. This guy seems to have been a real piece of shit.

 

Wiccan Sex-Magic – Inga Steddinger

wiccan sex-magic inga steddinger.jpgWiccan Sex-Magic – Inga Steddinger
Runa Raven – 1999

The image that pops in my head when I hear the word Wicca is of a middle-aged white woman with a nose ring and a well stocked spice-rack. It’s that flowery witch bullshit for Rennaisance fair geeks, right? Well, apparently there’s more too it.

In an introduction by Stephen E Flowers, it is made clear that the word Wiccan in the title of this book means “that of the sorcerer”, so the title really means “Sex Magic of the Sorcerer”. I assume this is pointed out early on so that people know that this work isn’t tying itself to the Mommy-with-a-moon-tattoo sect of witches that we all think of when we hear the word Wiccan.

Gerald Gardner, the father of Wicca, was friends with Aleister Crowley, and while Gardner’s Wiccan tradition did involve the use of sex in its practice, it seems that many Wiccans today shy away from the kinky stuff, at least publically. This book goes the other way and embraces it.

The main idea here is that sex magic is effective because when performed correctly it corresponds with the actions of the Gods of Norse Mythology as told in the Eddas. It’s all about power. There’s always a submissive and dominant, and this power imbalance and the flow of power it entails ensure that the rituals are highly charged. When the magician gives his girlfriend a passionate rimjob, he is worshipping her as the fearless Warrior Gröd worshipped the Goddess Holfurnbjorn. By becoming an avatar of the hero in this manner, he activates that hero’s powers. I’m being a bit silly here, but I’m confident that I’ve made the idea clear.

It wasn’t just the intro to this book that reminded me of Stephen E. Flowers; it’s also full of talk about bondage and birching. When I reviewed Carnal Alchemy, the book on Sado-Magical techniques that Flowers wrote with his wife, I noted that it had a  self-aggrandizing “We do S&M. We’re magicians. We’re so cool” vibe to it. Wiccan Sex Magic is similar. Then again, I suppose that most magicians are bound to bring their other interests into their practice, and if Inga Steddinger wants to incorporate her love of going to orgies and having her bum slapped into her magical practice, good for her.

This is a short review, but Steddinger’s book is only about 40 pages long. I have some cool stuff lined up for the next few weeks, so check in again soon.

 

The Devil’s Dozen – Gemma Gary

devil's dozen gemma gary.jpgThe Devil’s Dozen: Thirteen Craft Rites of the Old One – Gemma Gary
Troy Books – 2015
This one was alright. It’s a book about communing with the Devil. The Devil here isn’t quite what some might expect. He’s an old Pagan god with a more complicated set of morals than the Biblical Prince of Evil.

gemma gary skulls devil

While this book does outline the procedure for summoning the Dark Man, it leaves it up to the reader to decide what to do if that summoning is succesful. Other grimoires I’ve read give fairly specific instructions on what to do and say when in the presence of Satan, but this one leaves it up to the magician. I liked this. It made Satan seem like an affable sort, the kind of guy you can talk to.

As far as grimoires go, this one is quite cool. It’s dark enough that you don’t feel like a wuss when you’re reading it, but it also has a kind of a natural, folky feel to it that actually makes it seem far more sincere than other over-the-top sinister grimoires. (This is more Black Widow than Black Witchery.) This is the second book by this author that I have read recently, and while I can’t speak to its efficacy, I definitely get the sense that Gary knows what she’s talking about.

skull gary devil
Reading this book made me reflect on my own relationship with the Devil. I’ve never met the lad, but I’m sometimes surprised by how much I am drawn to books about him. It’s been 15 years since my parents last forced me to go to mass. Why do I still think that Satan is so cool? I guess this whole blog is just a desperate last act of rebellion as I approach middle age. Oh well.

The Black Toad – Gemma Gary

black toad gemma garyThe Black Toad – Gemma Gary
Troy Books – 2012

I can’t remember what sparked my interest, but I have been meaning to read this book for a few years. The Black Toad is a collection of folk magic from South West England. There’s three sections in the book – a bit about general spells, a bit about spells that use plant materials and then a bit about black (bad) magic. I started off impatient to get to the naughty part, but in light of what I’ve read recently, I found some of the first parts quite interesting too.
gemma gary cup of toad tea.jpgThe book has some really cool pictures and photographs. I love a nice cup of tea myself.

It was only last week that I reviewed Dark Rites & Encounters with the Devil by Marcus T. Bottomley. I was rather critical of that book because I thought that the author had just made up a bunch of crap. Unlike the Solomonic grimoires I’ve read, very little prepatory work was discussed, and the author would instruct the magician to do certain things without any explanation as to why they were doing them. I didn’t think I’d be writing about that book so soon after reviewing it, but some of the stuff it contained was rather similar to the spells in Gary’s book.

The difference between these books is that Gemma Gary makes it very clear that she is writing about a specific type of magic. I’m not sure of the nomenclature, but I’ll just call this strain “folk magic”. Folk magic then, as far as I understand, is a mix of pagan, Christian and grimoire magic. Gary’s spells use parts of the Bible, the Sacred Book of Abramelin and loads of traditional British witchcraft. Gary also provides explanations of the spells she is describing. One thing that struck me as peculiar when I was reading Bottomley’s book was the inclusion of worn shoes in several of his spells. This seemed rather silly to me – what use is a smelly old boot going to be? Gemma Gary explains that shoes are potent in sympathetic magic because shoes literally lead us down the paths of our lives. I get it now. If you attack the thing that leads a person down their path, you can obstruct them. That makes perfect magical sense. There were a few other noticeable similarities between some of the spells in these books, and my general takeaway was that Marcus T. Bottomley’s book, although poorly written, was probably a far more sincere collection of folk magic spells than I gave it credit for. I want to take this opportunity to apologize for calling Mr. Bottomley an “awful wizard”.

I’ve probably written more about another book than the book I set out to review. Don’t worry; you can find more focused reviews of The Black Toad elsewhere online. I’m not a witch, but I found this book to be quite interesting. I have The Devil’s Dozen, another of Gemma Gary’s books, lined up to be reviewed real soon.

Spawn of the Devil (Inpenetrable) – A Quaint and Curious Volume of Forgotten Porn

The most exciting part of Francis King’s Sexuality, Magic and Perversion was doubtlessly a passage towards the end of the book where King is discussing how magic has been portrayed in works of pornography. He points out that most of the occult-themed porn that had appeared at the time that he was writing his book had been written by people who had no real knowledge of occultism. He mentions one exception to the rule, referring to a book titled Inpenetrable (the spelling mistake is neither mine nor King’s), a pornographic novel that features the Order of the Golden Dawn invoking demons, worshipping Satan, and indulging in buggery, rape and psychic murder. According to King, the author of this intriguing text actually seemed to have had a decent amount of occult insight.

francis king on inpenetrable
After reading this passage, I had to find the book it’s describing.

In a footnote, King claims to have traced 3 separate printings of this intriguing book. One printing credits a Joel Harris as the author, one credits an Aristotle Levi, and the last seems to have completely withheld the author’s name. King points out that the text in all three editions was produced by photo-lithography, suggesting that all three derived from a previous edition that he has never seen. He also believes that the texts he had seen were published in 1970 or 1971.

I spent a few days trying track down a copy of Inpenetrable, but I could only find one other reference to it. Ellic Howe briefly alludes to it in the penultimate paragraph of his 1972 book The Magicians of the Golden Dawn. He claims that this peculiar work of pornography had recently been brought to his attention by a friend. Judging by the details Howe gives (or lack thereof) and the year that his book was published (the year after Sexuality, Magic and Perversion), I’d be surprised if Howe’s friend hadn’t been Francis King. Howe provides no extra clues about the origin of this peculiar text.

ellic howe inpenetrable
The title of the book, Inpenetrable, didn’t yield any other results, so I decided to search up the name/s of the author. “Joel Harris” led to a dead end, but there are a few, scant mentions of Aristotle Levi online. It seemed as if this guy wrote two other books, Spawn of the Devil and In the Devil’s Power, but there was no other mention of Inpenetrable anywhere. It turns out though, that Spawn of the Devil was translated into Danish and published as I Djævlens Magt, which translates as “In the Devil’s Power” – the two titles were a result of my browser’s automatic translator. There was only one book. Spawn of the Devil (and its translation) came out as part of the Svea Book series, a pornographic series that was published in Denmark in the late 60s and early 70s by a porn company called Nordisk Bladcentral. Some sources credit the work of this Aristotle Levi to a woman named Erica Schoeb, but Erica holds the copyright for all of the books in the Svea series, so it seems likely that she was the series editor or publisher rather than the actual author of any of its texts.

After several hours of searching with these clues, I found an index of science-fiction pornography that gives the following summary of Spawn of the Devil; “Maureen Graille, a seventeenth century witch, is reincarnated in the present.” Bingo! King had mentioned “Maureen Graille, the heroine of the book” in his brief discussion of Inpenetrable. I realised that Spawn of the Devil and Inpenetrable could potentially be two entries in the same series, but judging by the genre I was dealing with, I assumed it more likely that they were just different titles for the same work.

Ok, so I hadn’t been able to find a copy of Inpenetrable, would Spawn of the Devil prove any easier to track down? Like I said, there were very few (maybe 5) mentions of Aristotle Levi or his work online. I don’t want to give away my book-finding techniques to my competitors, but I’ll say that after quite a bit of searching, wrangling, infiltrating strange facebook groups and google-translating, I managed to obtain a single copy of Spawn of the Devil from a dusty, second-hand bookshop somewhere in the Middle-East.

spawn of the devil - aristotle levi
Spawn of the Devil – Aristotle Levi

Svea Book – 1969

Let’s start off with the physical book itself. There’s a few scratches on the cover, but nothing you wouldn’t expect on a book published in 1969. There’s no cover image or blurb on the back. There’s nothing inside other than the story itself – no details on the author or advertisements for other books.

The text is peppered with typos, but the standard of the writing is pretty good. I imagine that the writer probably wrote other, less smutty, books under a different name. In fact, some of the sex scenes in this book seem so sudden and unnecessary that I would be surprised if the author hadn’t originally had loftier aims for this work. This might well have been intended as an occult thriller that was a little too sexy for respectable publishing houses. Maybe after a few refusals, the author took his manuscript to a smut house and was told that instead of being too sexy, the text wasn’t sexy enough. Perhaps he cried into his typewriter as he reedited his manuscript and filled it with “hot cock-sticks”, “quivering quims” and “tight little shitholes” as a last resort to get it published. I’ve read other occult based porn in which the standard procedure was one sex scene per chapter, but this isn’t quite the same. Spawn of the Devil frontloads the smut – once the story gets going, the sex takes a backseat. There’s a few chapters towards the end with barely any riding at all.

And some of the sex scenes are absolutely ludicrous. I’m by no means an expert on literary pornography, and I know that different people get off on different things, but many of the sex acts described in here come across as vulgar and hilarious rather than titillating and sexy. I can’t deny the fact that I greatly enjoy vulgarity though, and I will admit that the following two page description of a disgusting incestuous liaison made me laugh so hard that I cried.

spawn of devil erotica
Please read both pages (higher res image here). It gets better and better. LOL.

Looking back, one of the main reasons I wanted to read this book was Francis King’s assessment of the author as a knowledgeable student of the occult. The occultism herein is largely of the Dennis Wheatley variety, but, like Mr. Wheatley, Mr. Levi clearly has a basic understanding of what he’s greatly exaggerating.

spawn devil inside coverI presume the pseudonym is a mix of the Greek fella and Eliphas Levi.

This book is super rare. If you plan on hunting down a copy, good luck to you. If you’re not pushed, here’s a summary of the story:

The story starts off with Maureen, a witch, observing an orgy in the forest. She isn’t partaking, just watching. When she leaves, she is apprehended by an angry mob of villagers who presume she had just finished up early and was heading home. The mob go on to capture all of the revelers.

All of the revelers are burned at the stake along with Maureen and her husband, Tom. Just before they are set alight, Maureen promises Tom that they will live again.

300 years later, a pair of twins that regularly have been having sex with each other since they were children both feel a sudden urge to go and dig a hole in a certain part of their village. They discover a strange ring. The sister, who is named Maureen, puts it on.

Soon thereafter, Maureen is having lunch in a fancy restaurant. By chance, she meets a lady called Celia Aston. It turns out that Celia is one of the leading members of a magical secret society called the Golden Dawn. She invites Maureen and her brother Tom to her house where she shows them her magical book collection and introduces them to her husband.

Maureen gets it into her head that she wants to be in Celia’s position. To put a curse on Celia, Maureen and Tom perform a gruesome black-magic sex ritual:

sex ritual curse
Yuck, but also Hahahaha.

The ritual is successful and Celia dies soon thereafter. Using mind control, Maureen convinces Celia’s grieving husband to marry her within a matter of months.

Later on, during a Golden Dawn orgy, Maureen manages to summon a spirit. It’s either Pan or Satan, or maybe both. Only Maureen and a crucified prostitute that Maureen had hired for the occasion actually see the spirit. The prostitute goes insane afterwards. While this is all happening, one of the other members of the Golden Dawn, a lady named Nona, simultaneously gets raped and senses that Maureen is a bad apple.

After this night of black magic and debauchery, Nona and her boyfriend visit a very powerful old witch named Kyleen to see if anything can be done about Maureen. They don’t know it, but Maureen was actually watching them do this by means of black magic.

Maureen summons the spirit of Pan to kill all three of them. She is successful in doing so, but unfortunately for her, Kyleen had been able to do some summoning of her own. Shortly afterwards, Maureen and Tom are killed when their ship sinks during a cruise. Just before they die, Maureen reassures Tom that they will meet again.

The book ends in the future. In the year 2236, a set of twins are born, a boy and a girl.

Spawn of the Devil isn’t the greatest occult-thriller in my collection, but it’s nowhere near the worst. Its combination of black magic and silly synonyms for genitalia pleased me immensely, and I can’t imagine a book more appropriate for this blog. Moreover, the process of reading about it in King’s book, researching it, tracking it down, waiting to see if it would ever actually arrive, and then reading and reviewing it a few months later has been rather exciting. When I started this blog and began reading books by people like Montague Summers, Timothy D’Arch Smith and even Francis King himself, I was jealous of the depths of their research and of the discoveries they had made in the realms of occult literature. It may not seem like a big deal to most people, but I found it immensely satisfying to solve part of a mystery posed by one of these individuals 47 years ago.

francis king inpenetrable footnote

Inpenetrable was first published by Nordisk Bladcentral as as Spawn of the Devil, a novel by Aristotle Levi. Unfortunately, I can’t claim to know who Aristotle Levi (or Joel Harris) was. My reading suggests that he probably wrote other books (under a different name) in the late 60s/early 70s. He clearly had an interest in the occult. His repeated use of the word bollocks means that he was almost definitely British. This book was published in Copenhagen and translated into Danish, so it is possible that he had some other link to Denmark. Does this description sound familiar to anyone? I wonder if there’s anybody alive today who knows his true identity. If anyone has any further information on Aristotle Levi, Joel Harris, Inpenetrable or Spawn of the Devil, please, please, please, leave a comment or email me to let me know.

 

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.