How now, you secret, black and midnight hags? The Demonology of King James I

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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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

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8. Seabrook’s Witchcraft

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

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7. Matthew Hopkins’ Discovery of Witches

The coolest physical book in my collection

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

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

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

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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.

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

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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… Dictionary of Demonology vs. Dictionary of Witchcraft

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.

Books of Black Magic

20160803_210246 The Book of Ceremonial Magic – Arthur Edward Waite
Bell – 1969 (First published in 1898 as The Book of Black Magic and Pacts)
Imagine, if you will, a man who takes it upon himself to read a bunch of cooky books on black magic and then proceeds to write about how utterly silly they are and how stupid the people who believe in them must be…  Sounds like a real cool guy, right? I’m referring, of course, to Mr. Arthur Edward Waite. Waite, famous for creating the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, is the author of this rather interesting book on grimoires, spirits, ceremonial magic and infernal necromancy.

Waite’s writing style can be painfully long-winded and academic, and nowhere is this as apparent as the headache-inducing introduction to this work. I don’t have a fucking clue what it’s about, and I would recommend that you skip it. Aleister Crowley, who is going to pop up a few times in this post, had a personal dislike for Waite and modeled Arthwait, one of the characters in Moonchild, on him. In chapter 12 of that novel, Crowley says; “Arthwait was naturally slow of thought and speech; it took him some time to warm up to real eloquence; and then he became so long-winded, and lost himself so completely in his words and phrases, that he would speak for many hours without conveying a single idea of any kind to his hearers, or even having one to convey.” Keep in mind too that Crowley himself was pretty bad for talking absolute shite.

 

Some of the minor illustrations within.

That being said, if you manage to slog through the intro, there’s lots of juicy stuff in here. The first half of the book gives the backstories to the most infamous grimoires. Waite breaks them down into three categories: books of transcendental magic – the least bad kind of magic, composite rituals – slightly sketchy magic, and black magic rituals – the purely diabolical. He goes into a satisfying amount of detail on the supposed origins of each text while also supplying his own opinions about their likely dates and places of origin.

The second part of Waite’s book, the Complete Grimoire, is basically all the good bits of the different texts that are discussed in the first half. It lists all the necessary precautions and steps you’ll need to take if you plan on summoning a demon to do your bidding.

20160803_210738Is this image over used? Waite and I agree that it’s not.

Waite’s overall stance is that Black Magic is really dumb and that these books are all forgeries for idiots. You’d wonder why he bothered writing a book about something that he had such disdain for. (If you’re a long term reader of my blog, you’ll remember that I said almost the exact same thing about his translation of Eliphas Levi’s book, Transcendental Magic.) He seems to have enjoyed making fun of gobshite occultists.  Good lad, Waite.

I simultaneously read this along with some of the grimoires that it’s about, and hence the second half seemed quite repetitive to me. The scope of this book is broad enough that it could serve as an introduction to the topic, but the writing is probably a bit too dense for casual readers. You can always check it out online to see if it’s what you want before buying a copy. Personally, I really enjoyed reading it.

 

20160803_210305The Goetia – Translated by Samuel Liddell Macgregor Mathers, edited by Aleister Crowley, and supposedly written by King Solomon.
Weiser – 1995
This edition was first published in 1904.
Original edition of the Lemegeton compiled mid 17th century.
Text purports to be from 10th century BC.

The Key of Solomon, perhaps the most famous grimoire, is supposedly a set of magic spells left by King Solomon. The Lesser Key of Solomon, or the Lemegeton, is its dirty sequel. (Although sequel might not be the correct word here. It’s more like when a band releases a collection of crap songs and covers that weren’t good enough to make it onto their last album; the Lemegeton is the Reload of Solomonic grimoires.) The Goetia is the first of four (or five, depending on who you ask) sections of the Lesser Key. It was translated by Samuel Liddell MacGregor Matthews, head of the Golden Dawn, and published by his protégé, Aleister Crowley, although by the time this was published, Mathers and Crowley were no longer friends. It has the usual crap about drawing fancy triangles on the floor and all of that nonsense, but most interestingly, it contains the names and details of 72 demons (most of which come from Weyer’s Pseudomonarchia Daemonum). This edition also includes several of Louis Le Breton’s drawings that originally appeared in the second edition of Collin De Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal.

20160803_211006One of Louis Le Breton’s drawings of a demon, accompanied by Crowley’s version.

This is mildly entertaining to flick through, but the most interesting parts are included in Waite’s book. If you have Waite’s book, this book will only be interesting if you’re a big Crowley fan. The physical book is quite nice, as Weiser editions usually are, and it contains some introductory essays by and about Mr. Crowley. In my opinion, the best parts of this text are the pictures that Crowley drew of the demons:

 

Notice any patterns?


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The Grand Grimoire: Being a Sourcebook of Magical Incidents and Diabolical Pacts
Compiled by Darcy Kuntz
Supposedly written by Antonio Venitiana del Rabina and King Solomon.
Holmes Publishing – 2008
Source material exists from 1521, 1522, and 1421.
Text purports to be from 10th century BC.

Now, this is it; the boldest and most infamous of all grimoires. Like the Goetia, the Grand Grimoire has its roots in Solomonic ceremonial magic. The first half gives instructions on how to summon Lucifuge Rofocale, Satan’s right-hand man, and the second half is about how to summon other demons.

20160803_210901 Lucifer and his entourage don’t really come across as super scary in this one.

I bought this book a long time ago, but the first few times I picked it up to read through it, I became confused by the introduction. The title of the edition I bought is “The Grand Grimoire. Being a Source Book of Magical Incidents and Diabolical Pacts“. There’s no blurb on the back, and there is very little information about this edition online. All of these factors led me to think that it might actually be a book about the book that I wanted to read.  I sent a message to Darcy Kuntz, the editor, on Goodreads, but he never responded to me. However, after looking through it and doing a bit of research, I have figured out that this is a version of the Grand Grimoire and not just a book about that text.

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The bulk of this edition is a word for word transcription of the edition of the Grand Grimoire that our friend, A.E. Waite, published in the June 15, 1895 edition of his magazine, the Unknown World. (How fucking awesome is it that those scans are online?!? The Grand Grimoire starts on the 35th page of the pdf.) Kuntz’s book also includes some passages taken from Waite’s Book of Ceremonial Magic. The confusing introduction of this edition of the Grand Grimoire is a mash-up of the introduction in Waite’s magazine and some other sources. Entire phrases are lifted from the entry on the Grand Grimoire in Lewis Spence’s Encylopedia of Occultism, to which no references are given. Tut-tut, Mr Kuntz. Your name says it all! Plagiarism aside, I just wish the introduction had been a little clearer about how the book had been compiled. Then again, maybe the organisation was deliberately awkward to give off a more genuine grimoire experience. Summoning Belzebuth just wouldn’t be the same if the instructions you were following  were organized in a coherent order!

There are other parts in Latin or Italian that Kuntz claims were taken from a source titled “Le Grand Grimoire“, but he doesn’t elaborate on what this source was or how it differs from Waite’s translation. I have found a pdf of a more complete translation than Waite’s. This version includes an English translation of the Sanctum Regnum section, although the Citatio Praedictorum Spiritum section remains in Latin in both the pdf and Kuntz’s edition. The pdf version also includes a third section which is made up of other “magic secrets”, including the method of raising the dead that Eliphas Levi alluded to in the chapter on Necromancy in his Rituals of Transcendental Magic. (LET THE DEAD RISE FROM THEIR TOMBS!) What’s interesting about the inclusion of this ritual is the fact that Waite actually claims that Levi made it up. In chapter IX of the Complete Grimoire, he claims that this ritual “must be given on the authority of Lévi; for no available editions of the work which is in question, nor yet of the Red Dragon, nor indeed any ritual of my acquaintance, contains it. There is reasonable probability that he invented it to make out his case at the moment.” I know that the pdf version is definitely worded differently to Kuntz’s version, so either it is a different translation or it was based on another manuscript of the grimoire. If it was based on another text, maybe that text is the one that Levi had read. Then again, maybe somebody read Levi and decided to add his bit onto the end because they thought it was cool; I certainly did. This is the problem with pdf versions; you don’t really know how genuine they are. (It’s bit sad when you contemplate that you’ve spent hours of your life researching the authenticity of an online edition of a translation of a forgery.)

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This is the lad who shows up if you perform the ritual of the Black Hen correctly.

Other things to note regarding the compilation of the pdf version:
One of the spells, “The Secret of the Black Hen”, was mentioned in Waite’s book, wherein he suggests that it was a late addition to the Red Dragon (another name for the Grand Grimoire).  The pdf also includes several spells from the Grimorium Verum, including instructions on “HOW TO CAUSE THE APPEARANCE OF THREE LADIES OR THREE GENTLEMEN IN ONE’S ROOM AFTER SUPPER”. There’s also another short section on commonly held superstitions that ends with the statement, “I have related these beliefs to amuse our readers but not to obligate the readers to believe all of them because they are mostly nonsense”. This pdf edition seems to be a compilation of different bits and pieces from a variety of grimoires and books about grimoires. It’s still pretty cool though; some of the spells at the end are grizzlier (and often far sillier/funnier) than the first two parts of the “authentic” text.

If you know anything about the compilation of the different versions of the Grand Grimoire, please leave a comment below or email me.

* * * *

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I have other grimoires in my collection, both books and pdfs, and I’ll doubtlessly get around to them at some stage. I suppose I’ve talked more about the actual books and what they’re composed of than the efficacy of what’s actually written within. It’s hard to imagine somebody reading through these texts and trying to carry out the rituals, but I’m sure that attempts have been made. I think that the tasks described in these books, although ludicrously tedious and difficult, are less likely to prevent somebody from attempting the rituals than is the fundamental problem of Black Ceremonial Magic addressed by Waite: these rituals require the sorcerer to supplicate God to give them control over evil demons in order that they may perform evil deeds. Why would an all-knowing, fundamentally good, God grant such a request? Also, in the grander rituals in which one of the rulers of Hell is evoked, the instructions given allow the sorcerer to essentially trick the demon into doing his/her bidding. These are not instructions on how to make a Faustian pact; it is expected that the sorcerer will get away without paying for the demon’s services. How many times would the demons fall for this kind of trickery before they cop on? Personally, I wouldn’t fuck about with a demon. It’s only polite to pay for what you’re given.

Witchcraft (Its Power in the World Today) – William Seabrook

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Willie Seabrook was an explorer, cannibal, black magician, bondage freak and journalist. This is his book on Witchcraft, and it’s fucking wonderful. The book deals with Seabrook’s personal experiences with witchcraft, and while a lot of it is fairly unbelievable, it is deadly craic. It’s a bit like reading a Dennis Wheatley novel told in the first person. I put this on my to-buy list after reading about it in Cavendish’s Black Arts, but after seeing it referred to in my favourite section of the Illuminatus! trilogy, I knew I had to get my hands on it. The  Illuminatus authors have Seabrook playing a part in a conspiracy involving Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Machen, Aleister Crowley, Robert W. Chambers, J.K. Huysmans, and H.P. Lovecraft. (Expect a post on Bierce soon; I reckon I’ll get around to Chambers before Christmas.) It is implied that the Illuminati murdered Seabrook over what he published in this book and made his death look like a suicide.
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(p. 296, Illuminatus! Trilogy)
After reading this, I had to own a copy of Seabrook’s book. It’s not super rare, but it took me a while to track down a copy for what I considered a reasonable price. My edition has a fairly boring cover, but the edges are coloured an interesting purple.
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Beyond the Mauve Zone?

So there’s three parts to the book. Each part is comprised of short accounts of different things that Seabrook witnessed. The first part is on Doll magic, and it’s probably my favourite. There’s one particular story about a deceitful white explorer in Africa that I absolutely loved. A lad cheats a tribe out of money and soon thereafter goes missing. Seabrook was mates with the lads in the tribe, and one day, one of the boys asks if he wants to see something interesting. Guessing that it has something to do with the disappearance, Willie warns him that if its the missing white man, he’ll be obliged to tell the police. The native laughs this off and brings Seabrook into the jungle and shows him something good. It’s the rotting corpse of another native, strung up to a tree. The ropes binding it to the branches are digging into the flesh of the corpse’s bloating neck, and things are starting to ooze. The corpse is wearing the clothes of the missing explorer, and if Seabrook was to have gotten up close, he would have seen clippings of the missing explorer’s hair stuck onto the head of the corpse.

The missing explorer was found dead a few days later after having died of a constricted windpipe. Black magic had caused what had happened to the corpse to also happen to the victim.
Fuck yes. That is the good stuff.

The second part of the book is on Werewolves and Vampires, and the third is on general occulty stuff. It tells of Seabrook’s friendship with Aleister Crowley.  This book is the origin of that famous story of Crowley walking behind a man, mimicking his gait, and consequently being able to make him collapse without touching or speaking to him. There’s also a part in here about Seabrook’s relationship with Upton Sinclair, author of Oil!, the most boring book I have ever read.

The book ends with a few chapters about kinky psychic-bondage experiments that Seabrook performed with his lover. He had a special gimp mask made for his partners that was basically designed to maximise sensory deprivation. He’d make his girlfriend Justine wear this mask, then tie her up by the wrists until she started hallucinating. They hoped these hallucinations would tell the future. The following images are not from the book, but they are extremely relevant. (They’re from an article about Seabrook from a 1942 edition of Click Magazine.)
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One of Willie’s babes. Looks like he knew how to pick them.

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He was a man that knew what he liked, God bless him.

Overall, this book is delicious. The stories might seem unbelievable, but that hardly matters. They’re entertaining. Plus, the author maintains that he doesn’t believe in magic the whole way through the book, and his incredulity is charming. Seabrook comes across as  a remarkably interesting, and I am definitely going to keep my eye out for his other books. There were a few times in this one when he would write something quite rude, and it would take me a while to figure out if he was being bold or not. At one stage, I believe he refers to a woman’s vagina as a pickle-jar, but maybe he meant something completely different.  Like other similar books, this contains references to other texts that I am going to have to try to get my hands on. Unfortunately, some of the books mentioned herein are fairly rare, and any copies I can find are extremely expensive. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to wait till I’m rich. Until then, I’ll leave you with some awesome pictures that I found after hunting down a reference from this book. On page 20, Seabrook mentions an article from a 1939 edition of Life magazine about Ozark superstitions. Finding the full thing online really made me happy that we live in the internet era. (Full article here)
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This is why I do this blog. DEADLY!

The Discovery of Witches – Matthew Hopkins and Montague Summers

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Cayme Press – 1928

This is a cool one.  This pamphlet contains Matthew Hopkin’s treatise on witchcraft from 1647 and an essay about Hopkins by my hero, Montague Summers. Hopkins, for those of you who don’t know, was England’s self proclaimed Witchfinder General. From 1644 until 1647, he traveled from village to village, trying and torturing those unfortunates accused of witchcraft. England was going through a civil war, and the state of political turmoil made it possible for Hopkins to assume authority and roam about as he pleased, burning bitches and getting money. It is believed that he was responsible for the deaths of 300 people. (This works out at as more than half of the total number of witches killed in England from 1400-1700.) The story goes that he stole the Devil’s list of names from Lucifer himself, and that’s how he knew where to look and who to interrogate. There was a movie made about him in 1968 that featured Vincent Price in the title role, and many heavy metal bands have written songs about him. I think he was a pretty neat guy.

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The essay is fairly interesting. Summers gets upset over the fact that people presume that burning at the stake was the standard method by which witches were executed in England. Although many witches were burned alive in Scotland and on the continent, most English witches were actually hung. Those few that were burned were usually being burned for other, additional offences. Summers deems Hopkins a humbug, a quack and a mountebank largely on the basis that Hopkins was not familiar with the classic literary works on witchcraft. The fact that he claimed to be an authority without having first poring over the literature really seemed to grate on Monty. (Summers was enormously erudite and is responsible for many of the existent translations of these works with which Hopkins was not acquainted.)

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(Image From Robbins’ Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology)

Hopkins’ pamphlet takes the form of a dialogue between himself and a person who is not convinced of the legitimacy of his work. He explains how he began his witch hunt, the nature of witchcraft and the different methods of ‘examining’ a witch. These different forms of examination were really just different varieties of sadistic torture. Hopkins was a notorious witch-pricker. He and his accomplices, John Stearne and Goody Phillips, would spend hours sticking needles into women’s flesh. If they found a spot that would not bleed, this was taken as proof of diabolic interference. (The Devil always left his mark somewhere on his servants’ bodies, and the spot where he left this mark would not shed blood.) The only real problem with this method is that there is a finite amount of blood inside a human body, and the more pricks you give a person, the more likely the next prick will prove bloodless. In fairness to Hopkins though, pricking was only a preliminary method of testing. If the results weren’t conclusive, the witch would be ducked.

Remember that amazing scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail in which the crowd decide to throw an alleged witch into the pond to see if she floats? (Watch it again and notice how they inaccurately claim that witches should be burned!) Well, a good game of sinky-floaty was also a favourite pass-time of Hopkins.

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I’d allow her to swim in my pond any day.

Summers describes how before the witches would be thrown into the pond, they would have their thumbs tied to the feet on the opposite sides of their body so that their limbs would be making the sign of the cross. The reason that witches were dunked in this manner was not to see whether or not they were made of wood; it was because water, which is in some way divine by its nature, would not accept a servant of Satan into its bosom. This method of trying a witch always seemed particularly bizarre to me, but apparently the practice of dunking occurred in some parts of Europe up until the late 19th century.

Can you think of anyone else who floated on water though? Hmmmmmmmm? I wonder what his excuse was…

Other suspected witches were either ‘watched’ or ‘walked’. Watching a witch involved placing the crone in a room with a small chink or hole in the door until she either made a confession or something else occurred to prove her guilt. She would be forced to sit in an awkward position, and tied up if she refused to remain still. The watchers would keep an eye out for spiders or small flies that slipped into the room through the fissure in the door. If they were unable to squash these bugs, this would be taken as proof that they were actually the accused’s familiar spirits come to relieve their master in her hour of suffering. An elusive midge could provide interrogators with enough evidence to send a witch to the tree. Watching sessions could last days, and the witches were starved throughout.

‘Walking’ was when witches were deprived of sleep and energy by being forced to stay up all night, running back and forth in a small room. Ándale, ándale! Arriba, arriba!

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Hopkins also provides an entertaining list of the names of all the witches’ familiars that he encountered. He claims that these wicked spirits have “names which no mortall could invent”, and while Ilemauzar, Pyewackett, Jarmara, Jeso, Holt, Saoke, Griezzel, Wynoe, Panu, and Mrit are all quite unusual sounding, Pecke in the Crowne, Vinegar-Tom, Jockey, Sugar, Newes, Littleman, Prettyman, Dainty, and  Greedigut all sound very much like they were invented by a mortall, and that’s not to mention Elizabeth, Collyn and Sandy. Best of all though, one witch claimed her familiar was named Jesus. (Summers gets hot and bothered over this, claiming that “to name the Sanctissimum Nomen would be to banish the familiars and dissolve the enchantment.”)

After a few years, local authorities became suspicious of Hopkins, and he was forced into early retirement. There are stories that he himself was ducked, but there is no evidence to believe that this actually  happened. He died from tuberculosis in his late 20s. (Vincent Price was 56 when he played him in the movie.)

This book is fairly old. I had been keeping an eye out for an affordable copy for quite a while before I found this one, and all things considered, it’s in pretty good condition for what I paid for it. The cover and spine are in rough shape, the pages are yellowed and the edges worn, but I’ve been able to figure out that before I purchased this copy, it had probably remained unread since its publication. Several of the pages are bound together on the wrong side, making the book impossible to read without either tearing them apart or using a very small camera to slip between the pages to photograph them. Maybe there is a specific word for this kind of printing error, but I am unaware of it. Check out the video below to see exactly what I mean.

I read Hopkin’s pamphlet online a long time ago, and Summer’s essay is interesting but not exactly mind-blowing. As a whole though, this book is fucking cool, and the extra effort I had to put into reading it made it all the more enjoyable. It’s Walpurgisnacht tonight too, so turn the tables on Hopkins and make it your business to go forth, make love to the devil, ride to the Sabbath, and hang a witch-hunter.

The Fiery Angel – Valery Bryusov

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Neville Spearman – 1975 (Valeri Briussov)
Dedalus – 2005 (Valery Bruisov)

I came across the title of this book when I was reading Colin Wilson’s The Occult two years ago, and from his description, I knew that I’d have to read it at some stage. I spent a while trying to track down a copy at a decent price, and when I found one, it spent a few months lying on the shelf before I got around to reading it. When I finally got around to it, I was met with an unpleasant surprise. Some of the pages were entirely blank. See the below video for details:


Like I said, I had ordered this a good while before picking it up to read, and so I didn’t feel it fair to demand a refund. I doubted that the bookseller had known about the defect, but I was having a slow day in work, and I decided to drop them an email to pass the time. Below is the message I sent.

my email

When I wrote that email, I did not expect a response. Fortunately, I was wrong; they replied promptly:
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Many’s the stupid email I have sent, but I have never been so satisfied with a response. Normally you get a feebly polite apology. I take my hat off to the individual who sent the above response to me. It makes me happy to think that there are companies out there that deal with customers as they should be dealt with. If you’re talking to a jackass, talk to them like they’re a jackass. (Although, note that the seller did very courteously offer to send me a replacement.) I was extremely satisfied with my dealings with this seller, and I encourage all of my readers to buy books from them whenever the opportunity arises.

Anyways, I soon thereafter bought a different copy of the book (the more recent Dedalus edition), and that version lay on my shelf for another year before I got around to it. While the Spearman edition has a foreword by Colin Wilson, the Dedalus version has an afterword by Gary Lachman. Surprisingly, the Dedalus version also omits a two page foreword by Bryusov himself that really should be part of the text. In it, Bryusov claims to be the editor of the tale and not the author so-to-speak. Otherwise, the text of the two books are identical copies of the same original printing. (There are identical imperfections on the same pages in both versions, one of which looks like a squished fly.) If I had to choose, I would buy the Spearman version, but I would make sure that it has all of the pages before buying! (My copy is missing pages 76, 77, 80, 81, 84, 85, 92, 93, and a few more.)

Two things before I start my actual review. First of all, the name of the author is spelled differently on my two copies of this book. It’s spelled Valery Bryusov most places online, so I’m going to use that spelling. Next, this post contains a few spoilers. If you are sure you want to read this one and you’re like me and like knowing as little as possible about a book before reading it, maybe you should read the book before you read the rest of this. (But make sure you do come back to finish reading this when you’re done. I discovered some cool stuff about this book that you’ll want to know!) If you’re not sure about whether or not you want to read this one yet, read away. The spoilers here won’t ruin the suspense of the novel.

So what’s the big deal here? Why did I bother with this book? Well, it’s a novel about magic, the witch-craze, repressed sexuality and perversion. What more could I possibly ask for? Set in 16th century Germany, it tells the story of a hard man called Rupprecht who’s making his way home after gallivanting around Mexico for a few years. He becomes enchanted by a girl who is staying in the same hotel as him, but he quickly notices that she’s carrying some serious baggage; she is possessed by demons and she practices black magic. As so often happens, this woman’s personality flaws make her seem all the more attractive, and Rupprecht decides to wander around with her for a while. She tells him that she’s searching for a former lover, and Rupprecht agrees to help her find him. Oh, and it also turns out that her old lover is either an angel or devil. (We’re never made entirely sure which side this ‘Fiery Angel’ is on.) At this point, Rupes’s compliance makes you start to wonder whether it was by natural or infernal means that he was so enchanted; shouldn’t he be taking this as his cue to tell Renata to fuck off?

Well, they wander around a while looking for the Fiery Angel, but Renata gets disheartened and decides that the only way to find him will be to ask the devil for help. Renata doesn’t want that kind of guilt on her conscience though, so she convinces Rupprecht that he should sell his soul so that she can find out where her boyfriend is. Rupprecht is a hard man and everything, but he clearly gets off on kinky sado-masochistic power struggles. The more he can debase himself for the sake of his lady, the stronger his mental ‘gasm shall be! He offers his soul to Satan and actually kisses the Dark Lord’s ringpiece in order to cuckold himself; what a creep!

There are several other twists and turns in their complicated relationship, but eventually Renata runs away on Rupprecht. After a bit of moping around by himself, he bumps into Faust and Mephistopheles and wanders around with them for a while. When he finally stumbles across Renata again, she has joined a nunnery, changed her name to sister Maria, and she’s gotten herself accused of witchcraft. (Typical, right?) She is of course guilty of witchery, but one gets the impression that the reasons she is being charged have less to do with her actions and more to do with the fact that nunneries are mad places full of mad people. The whole thing very quickly turns into a Devils of Loudun situation, and Renata is sentenced to death. Rupprecht tries to rescue her, but things don’t really go according to his plans.

That’s the basic plot of it, but there’s a tonne of cool bits that I’ve left out. Rupprecht attends a witches’ Sabbath, he spends time with Cornelius Agrippa and Johann Weyer, he performs ceremonial black magic and summons demons, and Renata and he have a tonne of kinky sex. (Ok, so we don’t get the juicy details, but judging by the way they act with eachother and the fact that Rupprecht claims that Renata wanted to do more than just regular inny-outty, we can assume that no door was left unopened!) One interesting feature of the text is the fact that although this is a novel about witchcraft and magic, it is also very much a piece of historical fiction. At no point in the book does anything happen that might not actually be explained in real life. Perhaps the most curious thing that occurs is that Renata knows Rupprecht’s name before he introduces himself, but I’m sure you can imagine 100 different ways that a person might find out the name of another guest at the same hotel as them.

Despite the fact that it is mentioned in neither Colin Wilson’s foreword in the Spearman edition nor Lachman’s afterword, it turns out that this book, particularly the last few chapters, is actually largely based on a true story. In 1749, a nun named Renata Maria Saengen von Massau was one of the last women in Germany to be executed for the crime of witchcraft. (She died in 1749, but The Fiery Angel is set over 200 years earlier; I don’t think any dates are specifically mentioned, but Cornelius Agrippa, who dies at the end of the book, actually died in 1535.) I found two different accounts of the real Renata’s life in my library. One is from Robbin’s Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. This is a rather sympathetic account that suggests that poor Sister Renata was a victim of mass hysteria. The other account of her life that I read was in Montague Summers‘ book, The Geography of Witchcraft. Monty was fully convinced that this woman was indeed a vile Satanist, and his account is even more fanciful than Bryusov’s.

Despite their different standpoints, Summers and Robbins both present the same basic story. Sister Renata had entered a nunnery when she was about 19 years old. She spent the last 15 of her 50 years in the nunnery as the subprioress. Everything was going fine in her life until a girl named Cecilia Pistorini started throwing fits in order to gain entry into the convent. Cecilia believed her hallucinations and spasms were messages from God, and she thought that this should allow her to skip through the novitiate stage of becoming a nun. Renata wasn’t convinced, and she suggested that the girl might have been putting it all on. Cecilia remembered this, and when she eventually became a nun, she convinced herself and others that Sister Renata was a witch. As she was dying, another senile old hag of a nun claimed that Renata had bewitched her, and this forced to the prioress of the convent to look into the matter. Word got out, and the idea that Renata was a witch caught on with other idiot nuns in the convent. They started imagining that they had been bewitched or possessed and a bunch of them started screaming things out during mass. The more attention they got from the local priests, the more horny they became and the more they acted up. This did not look good for poor Renata. She denied all of the allegations at first, but after twenty lashes with a consecrated rawhide bullwhip, she started to remember her sins.

In Renata’s confession, she claims to have given herself to Satan when she was only 8 years old. She spent her teenage years having sex with demons and learning the craft of Satanism, and then when she was old enough, she decided to join the convent with the sole purpose of bringing it down from the inside. (It’s a bit hard to understand how the other nuns didn’t notice anything for the first 49 years that she had been there.) She claims to have ridden to the Sabbath several times a week, to have made love to the Devil on countless occasions, and to have stolen consecrated hosts with the purpose of throwing them into the toilet. The way she stole the hosts was pretty cool. Before she would go to receive communion, she would cut slits in her flesh, and when the priest would give her the communion wafer, she would sneakily stick it into the communion-shaped holes that she had carved into her own body. She did this just so she could throw the body of christ into the crapper. What a legend!

There’s an interesting part in the Verbatim Reports from Sister Renata’s trials that might have been Bryusov’s source of inspiration for the character of Rupprecht.

“Q. Was she a witch?
A. Yes.
Q. Where did she learn this and from whom?
A. A grenadier had taught her in Vienna, where she and the whole household had gone with her father during the Hungarian war.
Q. How did she meet this grenadier?
A. As happens in wartime. The grenadier had often given her bread when she was hungry, and finally he promised to teach her something.
Q. What then did this grenadier finally teach her?
A. He gave her a paper, on which all sorts of letters were written. On this paper she had to draw a circle and stand inside it. In addition, she had received a charm [Zetel] with various words on it; and if she could read these words, then she could make passers-by in the street lame and crippled.”

In The Fiery Angel, Rupprecht doesn’t meet Renata in Vienna, but he is a soldier that meets her in a time of need, and they do spend time together studying the black arts. I think it’s quite likely that Rupprecht originated as a re-imagining of the mysterious grenadier from the real Renata’s confessions.

In the book, Renata dies in Rupprecht’s arms, but the real Renata was not quite so lucky. Her judges decided to show her some leniency in her execution though, on account of the fact that she had been seduced by Satan at such a young age. She was shown the courtesy of having her head chopped off before being thrown into a barrel of burning tar. Apparently the executioner made such a clean cut that her head popped clean off her body with the first blow from his sword, and he was given a round of applause for his accuracy. Imagine a crowd of people cheering a man for decapitating a 69 year old woman.

All in all, this is a very interesting book. I found the first half dragged a little bit, but it really picks up later on. Bryusov knew his stuff when it came to witchcraft, and there are a few books mentioned in here that I am going to have to try to track down. In truth though, this book is more about the psychology of attraction than it is about black magic. Apparently the plot of the story is largely based on events from the author’s own life. He basically took the story of a love triangle that he had been involved in, chose characters from a famous witch trial to play the roles, and set the story 200 years before those people had actually lived. The result is actually deadly. I mean, as mad as it sounds, I think this book would be an enjoyable read for a person with no interest in witchcraft or demonology. For those of us who are interested in those topics, this is a must read. Five stars.