Black Easter – James Blish

black easter - james blishBlack Easter – James Blish
Equinox/Avon Books – 1977 (First published 1968)

This is definitely one of the better novels about black magic that I have read. The particular nature of this story renders it difficult to discuss without giving away some fairly crucial plot details, so if you’re like me and like to know as little as possible about a book before reading it, maybe you should come back to this review after reading the book itself. If you were hoping that this review would help you decide whether or not to read the book, know that I loved it. If you have any interest in the other books that I’ve reviewed on here, you’ll probably enjoy this one.

Spoilers start here:

The plot of this novel could be charted with a single ascending line. There is no falling action, denouement or resolution; it ends with the climax, and a rather climactic climax it is too. I like when books are gutsy enough to have brutal endings (unless they’re love stories), and finishing off with the ultimate victory of evil over good as brutal as it gets. I was expecting the priest to do something to thwart Baines and Ware, but I was delighted that he didn’t.

The ending was both shocking and abrupt, and for the first time that I can remember, I wanted to reread a book as soon as I had finished it. There is a sequel though, The Day after Judgement, so I’m going to wait till I get my hands on that before I reread Black Easter. To be honest, I was so happy with the ending that I am a bit worried that the second part of the story will ruin the first. I don’t want the characters to get a chance to fix things.

The final revelation of Black Easter, the claim that God is dead, is particularly chilling given the nature and timing of his death. He has died at a time when Earth is infested with demons, demons that have hitherto been under the guidance of ceremonial magicians using the dead God’s names as their instrument of control. By creating this scenario, Blish calls into question the inherent conflict of ceremonial magic as noted by A.E. Waite. Black magicians using grimoires such as the Lesser Key of Solomon and the Grand Grimoire, both of which are alluded to in Black Easter, need to ask God for his help in controlling the demons they conjure. Why would a loving God help an individual who was intent on massive acts of terror, and, in this case, why would an all knowing God accommodate his own destruction? Could it be that God is so upset with his creations that he wants to die? There’s a depressing thought.

While Black Easter and The Day after Judgement make up one larger work, that combined work (sometimes called The Devil’s Day) makes up a single part of Blish’s After Such Knowledge trilogy. The other books in this thematic trilogy are A Case of Conscience and Doctor Mirablis. I have a copy of Doctor Mirablis on my shelf, and I’m planning on picking up the other two books soon. It’s been quite a while since I finished a book and wanted to read more from the same author.

Part of the appeal of Blish’s writing, and I’ve already alluded to this, is his attention to accuracy. While this is a fantasy novel, much of its content comes from real grimoires. Blish addresses this in a note at the beginning of his book; he states,  “All of the books mentioned in the text actually exist; there are no “Necronomicons” or other such invented works”. Despite this, he later quotes from The Book of the Sayings of Tsiang Samdup, a fabled tome, similar to the Necronomicon in that the first references to it appeared in works of fiction, two novels Talbot Mundy. (This wasn’t the only time that elements of Mundy’s work managed to will themselves out of the confines of fiction.) On top of all this, there are those who say that Theron Ware, the central character of Black Easter, is based on Aleister Crowley. Ware certainly resembles the kind of person I’d imagine Crowley to have been, but I had read of this comparison before reading the novel, so I can’t be sure how much of the similarity was legitimate and how much of it was projected by my expectations.

Like I said, I’m planning to read the sequel, so I’ll doubtlessly come back to this book. In the meantime, make sure you eat loads of chocolate for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

How now, you secret, black and midnight hags?

macbeth demonology jamesThe Demonology of King James I – Edited by Donald Tyson
Llewellyn Worldwide – 2011 (Originally published 1597)

King James (yes, the Bible lad) was a dirty cunt. Not only was he the British monarch responsible for the plantation of Ulster, he was also an insane person who thought that the devil was on a personal vendetta against him. His ludicrous beliefs led to changes in the anti-witchcraft laws of his day, and these changes were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people.

It all started when the boat that was carrying his fifteen year old Danish bride to England was caught in a storm and forced to stop off in Norway. He decided to head over there himself to escort her home, but along the way he also encountered shitty weather. After meeting his child wife in Norway, the couple headed back to Denmark, where James heard tell that two witches had confessed to causing the storms that had hindered him so.

When he got back to Scotland, he heard stories about local witches that had originated in the confessions of a woman named Gillis Duncan. Gillis was a maid who had been spotted leaving her master’s house during the middle of the night. The master of the house was upset by this and he took it upon himself to torture poor Gillis until she admitted that she was a witch. Her confessions implicated dozens of others, and this led to the North Berwick Witch Trials that were recounted in the 1591 pamphlet titled Newes from Scotland.

6 years later, James wrote his Daemonologie (or Demonology). It’s a treatise in the form of a Socratic dialogue on the existence of witchcraft, and, in truth, it’s very boring. James firmly believed in the existence and absolute guilt of witches, and while he was certainly well read, his reasoning is tedious, flawed and often ridiculous. The text is filled with all of the Biblical references and victim shaming that you’d expect from a witch hunting manual. James believed that God would not allow innocent people to be punished for witchcraft, so it was better to accuse too many than too few. Take a moment there to think about how horrible and dangerous that idea is… All together, Jimmy comes across as an arrogant, know-it-all, dickhead, and reading this text was a pain in the neck.

daemonologie

That being said, this edition of the work, translated, compiled, edited and introduced by Donald Tyson is really nice. It includes both the original and modernized versions of Demonology and Newes from Scotland, and the annotations are very comprehensive. I’ve seen other, fancy hardback editions of Daemonologie, but this is definitely the one I would recommend for anyone who actually intends to read and comprehend the text. I’m planning on reading more of Tyson’s work in the near future.

 

I’d like to think that this won’t have been the first story of witches fucking over the king of Scotland that my readers have encountered. James had been King of Scotland since 1567, but he was coronated King of England in 1603. It was three years after this that Macbeth was first performed. James was supposedly a patron of Shakespeare, and some people believe that Shakespeare actually wrote Macbeth for King James. James apparently believed that he was a descendant of Banquo, and although Banquo meets with a grisly end, you’ll remember that his descendants ascended the throne and ruled for generations.

When it comes to the history of horror fiction, I don’t think too much attention can be paid to Macbeth. It’s filled with decrepit castles, frightening visions, witches, ghosts, demonic apparitions, murder and evil. Also, it’s difficult for the modern reader to imagine just how scary this play would have been to an audience of people who were completely convinced in the existence and power of witches. It’s literally my job to babble on about Shakespeare, and because I don’t yet get paid for writing this blog, I’ll hold off from saying much more about him for now.

osculum anus holeKiss the Ring

I expected my life to calm down a bit after Christmas, but I feel like I’m busier than ever now. Hopefully I’ll get a few more posts out soon.

The Peculiar Legends of the Red Book of Appin

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

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

I decided to do a little research.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

red book of appin - ethan allen hitchcock

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

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

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

Enter Montague Summers.

montague summers history witchcraft.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Death Worship and Current 218

liber falxiferLiber Falxifer: The Book of the Left Handed Reaper – N.A-A. 218
Ixaxaar – 2008
While maybe not quite as old as they claim to be, grimoires such the Grand Grimoire, The Goetia, the Book of AbraMelin and Die Faustbücher have all established their places within the canon of Western Occultism. These texts are referenced in many of the other books that I read, and I read them in turn to help me understand those other books. Liber Falxifer, however, was first printed in 2008, and it has yet to be republished as a Dover Occult paperback. With the internet, anyone can create and publish their own grimoire, so why did I choose to read this one?

The cover is really fucking cool, and the title has a nice ring to it. However, what really drew me to this book were the prices that I saw people paying for it online. You’ll be lucky if you can find a copy of this thing for less than $500. I would never spend that much on a book, but I was intrigued as to why others would. When a friend offered to lend me their copy of Liber Falxifer, I jumped at the chance to see what all the fuss was about. (I’m actually working on a separate post about collecting occult books in which I’ll further elaborate on the potentially ludicrous cost of this hobby.)
falxifer skeleton.jpgThe Illustrations, sigils and front cover of this book were designed by Soror Sagax. 218.

Liber Falxifer is about the Cult of the Dead and the worship of the Left-handed Skeleton Lord of Death. The first part of the book describes the origins cult of this Señor La Muerte. I presumed this was all bullshit, but I looked it up and it’s a real thing in parts of South America; people there do actually pray to a Saint of death. The book claims that there is an esoteric side to the worship of this Saint that is not publicly discussed or recognized, and it’s this side of things that it focuses on: how to kill your neighbour, how to control people, all of that good stuff…

Links are then drawn between this Saint of Death and Qayin (Cain) of Bible fame. It gets into apocryphal interpretations of the Genesis story and ends up with a really juicy Satanic form of Gnosticism. I absolutely loved this part of the book.

The last few chapters are on the actual practice of Black Magic. These parts, though occasionally rather sinister, were not different enough to what I’ve seen before to hold my interest. I wasn’t reading this as a practicing magician, so this bit was bound to be wasted on me.

falxifer sigilSigil from the cover of the book.

There’s a poem at the very beginning of the book that struck me as very familiar, and some of the phrases in the different summonings and the way in which they were ordered made me think of the lyrics on Dissection’s Reinkaos album. While ruminating on that record, I recalled that the first song is called Nexion 218.  Was it a coincadence that  the author of this book is given as N.A-A. 218? Ixaxaar.com, the publisher’s website states that this book was written by the Magister of the Temple of the Black Light, the same order that Jon Nödtveidt, singer of Dissection, belonged to. This Magister of the Temple of the Black Light (formerly the Misanthropic Luciferian Order) also went by the name of Frater Nemidial, and what do you know, Frater Nemidial gets a writing credit on Dissection’s Reinkaos album. dissection reinkaos

For those of you who don’t know,  Jon Nödtveidt, the singer and guitarist in Dissection ended up shooting himself in the head during a Satanic ritual. He had previously spent 8 years in prison for murder. Reinkaos, his final album, is maligned by many fans of the band because it sounds so different from their earlier releases,  but I’ve always had a soft spot for it.

Anyways, back to Liber Falxifer. It’s definitely a more enjoyable read than other grimoires I’ve slogged through. I really liked the way that it tied Gnosticism, Satanism and the cult of Death together; I love that occulty synthesis stuff. Also, this one is pretty dark. It doesn’t shy away from blood rituals and graveyard desecration. I mean, I’m not going to go out and do that stuff myself, but I like the idea that books like this exist. My interest in Satanism and Black Magic is largely fueled by my love of heavy metal, and while I was surprised that I was able to recognise the author by his turn of phrase, I was not surprised that the individual who wrote this was somehow involved in heavy metal.

skull falxifer

As mentioned before, I am not a practicing magician, so I have nothing to say on the book’s efficacy. I can really only discuss whether or not I enjoyed reading it. When I read grimoires, I like imagining that I’m a character in a tale by Clark Ashton Smith or Lovecraft who has come across some long forgotten book of heinous magic, and as far as grimoires go, this one was quite entertaining. The only way I would have enjoyed Liber Falxifer more would have been if it was more violent. I liked how it touched on blood sacrifices, but I would have enjoyed some brutal torture or some mass killings thrown into the mix. Again, I stress that I read these things as if they were fiction; I really don’t want that kind of thing to happen in the real world. I suppose there’s only so much you can get away with if you’re putting out a book that is going to be taken seriously.

So overall, this book was enjoyable enough, but it fell just short of what I want from a Satanic Grimoire. I feel a bit like Bono. Does my ideal Grimoire exist? I’ve thought of writing one myself, one that was completely over the top in terms of sinister violence and evil, but as much fun as that would be, I’d be terrified that some loon might get their hands on it and take it seriously. There’s two more books in the Falxifer series, and while I sure as Hell won’t be buying them, I’ll consider reading them if they ever come my way.

Kenneth Grant’s Magical Revival

kenneth grant magical revival crowley lovecraft
The Magical Revival – Kenneth Grant
Skoob – 1991 (Originally published in 1972)

Fuck. Here we go again.

Kenneth Grant, Aleister Crowley‘s protégé, wrote a set of 9 books called the Typhonian Trilogies. This is the first in the collection, and it serves to lay out the key players, ideas and history of modern magic. It’s infamous for its attempts to link the weird tales of H.P. Lovecraft with the magickal ideas of Aleister Crowley. The introduction to the Simon Necronomicon, published 5 years later, attempts to do something similar, but we all know how ridiculous that book is. I wanted to read this one to see if it was more convincing. (Incidentally, Simon, in his Dead Names: The Dark History of the Necronomicon, claims that Grant was to use the Necronomicon as a source for some of the later works in the Typhonian series.)

I first tried to purchase this book several years ago, but it’s hard to find an affordable copy. Plus, a quick google search for it will lead you to a .pdf of the text. At one point I had decided to just read it online, but on seeing it show up in Alan Moore’s Neonomicon, I became convinced that I needed a physical copy for my library.

magical revival in alan moore's neonomiconIf a comic book character has read it, I have to read it too.

Most of this book is spent expounding the magickal theories of Aleister Crowley. There’s other chapters on Austin Ozman Spare and Dion Fortune. The part on Lovecraft is only a few pages, and it doesn’t delve very deeply into Lovecraftian lore at all.

I reckon Grant had a decent understanding of all the different occulty things he is talking about, but he doesn’t always make that easy to believe. Don’t get me wrong, there are entire pages of the book that are lucid and interesting, but the writing frequently spins out of control and becomes terribly muddled. It becomes impossible to distinguish between when Grant is making brilliant connections, when he is making less convincing connections, and when he is talking absolute bollocks. My job, believe it or not, involves teaching people how to write. I am a fairly lenient marker, but I am strict with my students on a few things: clarity, cohesion and referencing. If little Kenny handed this in to me, I would tell him it’s rubbish and make him rewrite it. I get that occult writers all like to fill their books with tricks, traps and only a little truth, but this is just taking the piss.

magical revival kenneth grant student commentsThe Magical Revival vs. My Grade 11 marking scheme.

There are some cool things about this book. Kenneth Grant did actually know several of the people that he is writing about, he shit-talks L. Ron Hubbard, and the system of magic he is propounding is unabashedly left hand path. That being said, the whole book is a load of bollocks, and I walked away from it having learned very little. Apparently, this is the most straightforward entry in the Typhonian series too, but hopefully I won’t be reading the rest. I don’t think I’ll have the stomach for any more of this kind of nonsense for a while anyways; I guess I’m just not cut out for the Hogwarts lifestyle.

Trapped in a Dream of the Necronomicon

dead names necronomicon simon
Dead Names: The Dark History of the Necronomicon – Simon

Avon – 2006

Before reading the Simon Necronomicon, I had never entertained the idea that it might be an authentic text, and I was quite surprised when I discovered that many individuals believe that it is truly an ancient spellbook. I gave the matter some consideration, and the only real evidence that I could see for the book’s authenticity was “how much it sucks”. Despite the title and the framing story, there’s very little Lovecraftian material in here. Sure, it’s really only a few oul’ sigils and a muddle of Babylonian mythology. If somebody was going to hoax out a Necronomicon, literature’s most infamous book of twisted black magic, you’d think that they’d make it a bit nastier. As it turns out, Simon, the chap who edited the Necronomicon feels the same way.

Dead Names begins with the expanded story of how the Necronomicon was discovered and published. This tale involves the Kennedy assassinations, the Son of Sam murders, warring covens of witches, mysterious suicides and a bizarre gang of questionably consecrated priests. We’re lashing conspiracies onto conspiracies here, but A) Simon provides evidence for some of his claims, and B) I love conspiracies. This part was pretty good; it felt like reading a more sinister version of the Da Vinci Code. Really, the most disappointing part of the story was getting to the end and realizing that I was only halfway through the book.

You see, unfortunately for everyone, Simon is not just expanding the mythos of the Necronomicon in Dead Names, he is also trying to prove its authenticity. Approximately half of this book is taken up with Simon’s arguing that the Necronomicon is a legitimate ancient text. I could go into explaining his reasoning, but ughh, who fucking cares? (If you do care and you want to witness Simon getting pwned, I strongly suggest checking out the blog of Simon’s arch-nemesis.)

The story of an ancient Babylonian manuscript showing up in New York is unlikely, but it’s totally possible. The story of an ancient manuscript with the same name as a fictional book invented by a horror writer, a text that has clearly been written by a “Mad Arab” who perfectly fits the description of the author in the horror writer’s stories, is far less likely, especially when said writer repeatedly claimed that the manuscript was entirely fictional. Simon says that Lovecraft had read the Necronomicon; Lovecraft said the Necronomicon was “fakery”, “fictitious”, “100% fiction” and “merely a figment of my own imagination”.

Simon has tried to keep his identity secret for the past 40 years because he supposedly came by the book illegally and doesn’t want to deal with the consequences. Why would Lovecraft have repeatedly denied the existence of the same book? Had he come across it illegally too? Why did he write so much about it if he didn’t want people to associate it with him?

Unfortunately, there are no good reasons to believe that the Necronomicon is real. Simon’s arguments are lame, selective and unconvincing, and reading the latter half of this book felt like Chariots of the Gods or some other wishy-washy work of pseudo-academia. I mean, to prove his points, Simon repeatedly references a book by one of the author’s of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, perhaps the most infamously debunked book of conspiracies ever written. Come on Simon, you’re fooling no-one.

Much like the book that its about, Dead Names would have been far better if the author had gone all out horror show. The origin story of the Necronomicon given here features all the shady ingredients necessary to make a truly entertaining weird tale, but Simon constrains himself with a set of unconvincing arguments that do nothing but make him look like a fool. By the end of the book, you start to feel embarrassed for the lad. I mean, nobody over the age of 15 believes the book is real, and Simon himself knows better than anyone that it’s not real, yet he gets into petty squabbles with people over its authenticity. At a certain point it seems to become more important for him to appear smarter than his critics than it does for him to provide evidence that the Necronomicon is real. It’s like watching an internet troll forget that they’re trolling.

The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin The Mage: the 100th post on Nocturnal Revelries

the book of sacred magic of abramelin the mageThe Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage – Abraham of Würzburg (Translated by S.L. MacGregor Mathers)
Dover – 1975

Wow, 100 posts! I don’t think I realized how much work I was going to put into reviewing dumb books when I started. This blog now contains more words than most of the books that have appeared on it. To celebrate this momentous achievement, I’m going to briefly review the Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, a curious grimoire of angelic magic. I first heard of it in the BBC documentary about Aleister Crowley’s house by Loch Ness, and I remember soon thereafter watching a video of Robert Anton Wilson discussing how he had attempted to perform part of the Abramelin ritual while tripping on acid, but it wasn’t until I heard the name of the text being mentioned in Ghoulies, one of the finest motion pictures ever made, that I knew that I needed a copy for my library. This book of spells purports to have been written in 1458, but the oldest surviving copies date from 1608. Many grimoires claim to be far older than they really are as that makes them seem more mysterious, but if this text was written in 1608, you’d imagine that the author would have set it back more than 150 years. Regardless of its authenticity, this is a rather interesting read.

I don’t want to spend too much time going into the plot details as there are plenty of summaries of this book to be found online, but the idea here is that in 1458, an old man named Abraham wanted to give his younger son, Lamech, a present. He had already let his eldest son in on his knowledge of Kaballah, so he decided to initiate Lamech into the secrets of Sacred Magic instead. He himself had come across these secrets from a hermit named Abramelin. We never find out much about Abramelin, but his magical secrets had supposedly made their way to him from the lads in the Old Testament.

There are three books within this book. The first of which gives Abraham’s account of how he came by this magic, and the second book gives the instructions for a 6 or 18 month ritual that one must go through in order to use the spells that make up Book 3. The lengthy ritual puts the magician into contact with his guardian angel. (I use the masculine pronoun purposefully here; women aren’t really supposed to practice this magic.) The guardian angel then grants the magician the power to control demons. This makes for a weird form of whitened-black magic. The practitioner is commanding legions of evil spirits to do his bidding, but he is doing so under the guidance of a good spirit. The standard how-to-turn-invisible/tell-the-future/get-money spells are all here, but it is presumed that the magus will only utilize these abilities for the good of all humanity.  Abraham strongly advises that this system of magic never be used for evil purposes, but he nevertheless includes instructions on how to cast spells upon Men, to bewitch beasts, to cast spells upon the liver, heart, head and other parts of the body, to demolish buildings, to ruin possessions, to excite emnity in general, to excite quarrels and fights, and to cause a general war.

Each spell comes in the form of a magical square. These look a bit like wordsearches, and each one must be used in a certain way. You generally have to make a copy of the square, rub it on your bum or keep it in your hat for a few days and then plant it close to the thing you want to bewitch.

spell square abramelin
The Spell Square to “make work done in inaccessible places”

It’s pretty hard to imagine anyone being in the position to give up 6 months of their life to perform the ritual as described in Book 2. The ritual must also be performed in a very specific type of building, so unless you’re a millionaire, you’re probably not going to have the opportunity to get this done. Aleister Crowley tried in 1901, but he didn’t get to finish it. The fact that he didn’t finish the ritual meant that the demons he evoked were never banished and were left free to haunt the house where he had evoked them. (Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page bought the house in 1970, but it has since burned down.) The book is fairly clear that its instructions must be followed very carefully, and I doubt many people have had both the determination and the means to actually go through with it. A few of those who have claimed to complete the ritual have published the diaries that they kept throughout. I would imagine these accounts are very boring indeed.

The Mathers version of the Book of Abramelin, the text that I read, was translated from an incomplete, already translated version of the original text. The manuscript that Mathers translated is of a later date than the copies that have since been discovered, and it only contained 3 books while the earlier German versions contain 4. The missing book is about the Kaballah though, so I’m actually pretty relieved that I didn’t have to waste my time reading it. The other big differences between the texts are that Mathers got some of the ingredients for one of the potions wrong, his version of the ritual is 6 rather than 18 months long, and his versions of the magic squares are missing some letters.

Unlike many grimoires, the Book of Abramelin is actually a fairly entertaining read. The narrative of the first book reads like a novella, and the unique bad-angels-working-for-good-angels-working-for-the-magician-working-for-God concept makes the magical instruction fairly interesting too. George Dehn and Steven Guth put out a translation of one of the older manuscripts, but unless you were seriously considering performing the ritual herein described, I wouldn’t bother shelling out the extra money. The Mathers translation may not the most authentic version of this book of spells, but it still includes all of the bits I’d be interested in. That being said, if I ever come across a cheap copy of the newer translation, I’d probably take a look.

If you want a far more in depth look at Abramelin’s magic, check out this blog.